Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

You Get What You See (YGWYS)


In the beginnings of the World Wide Web (1994 for me), web designers were given a great deal of latitude. I don’t even think they were called designers, just web page makers. It was all new for all of us, but we learned and pages improved. Now, nearly 20 years later, I find web pages getting worse more often than I find them getting better.

I’m not speaking as a web expert. I’ve never learned more than I needed for the task at hand. Yet, despite keeping things simple, I learned HTML, some Java, and CSS. My only claim as web critic is the thousands of pages I’ve created and the hundreds of thousands of pages I’ve viewed. That, and common sense.

The latter is what I find lacking on at least half of the web pages I view. For example, design principles that work for slick print magazine pages make no sense for web pages. Text fonts so faint as to be nearly invisible are foolish for displays varying in size, contrast, brightness, etc. Magazine pages are precisely controlled; computer displays are not.

This practice has not only continued (in the face of common sense) but has flourished. So I have to ask: Are they web designers or lemmings? Based on the evidence, I suspect the latter. There are dozens of other widespread errors, but I’ll just mention a few.

Often, the online versions of print publications have no left margin. Most are from large corporations. Their web designers merely need to use a little CSS, because margins are built in! No left margins means the leftmost letters are partially obscured on any display not perfectly centered.

An emerging problem are pages that don’t fit smaller displays—but cannot scroll horizontally. Really? Not only do I not know why anyone would do this, I don’t even know how to do it. Which brings me to the point of this post: Does no one ever look at their work?

Design, like any creative process, is a matter of stepwise refinement. Do it, then do it over—then do it better. And so on. Simply doing it because other people do it, is not design; it is mindless copying. What possible excuse is there for imitating bad design? This is not how we learned to make better web pages. It is, in the larger sense, devolution.

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