Thursday, January 15

Sweeping changes in design around here. You will have noticed the new title text color, a measured, reflective, and yet forceful statement of my recent shift to a more organic aesthetic sensibility. And of course the decision to embrace consistency more fully and render the links in the (re-arranged, you'll note) sidebar the same classical blue as those in the body of the text will not have gone unremarked by readers as astute as mine. I think, however, that the change I am most proud of is the new spacing between elements of unordered lists - two tenths of an em less may seem a drastic alteration, but I am confident that the coming months will justify the decision.

Sorry. I won't do that again.

I have been fiddling with my stylesheet and thinking about design again, because it is one of those things I can do (and write about) when more personal subjects refuse to submit themselves to the written word. Or, in other words, when I'm just feeling like an ass.

Don't get me wrong. I do think that design, as a general field - and as it applies to the domain of, say, electronic documents - is worth serious consideration. But for me, at least, this is something which can absorb the surface of my attention and a lot of nervous energy without requiring the same reflection that most writing would. I suppose it is a lot like the loopy, mostly decorative doodling that fills the margins of my homework.

Anyway, p1k3 is pretty far from perfect, but aside from some structural things I haven't gotten around to fixing yet, like a few navigational links between entries and better integration of graphical elements, it fits most of my own criteria for a good web page. (Form-wise, if not yet content-wise.) Namely:

  • It's pretty simple.
  • The text isn't too tiny.
  • New stuff is on the front page, first thing you see. Old stuff is easy to get to, or it will be once I tweak a few things.
  • There's not a lot of crap on the top or sides of the pages.
  • The URL scheme is consistent and short.1
  • No popup windows. No new fullscreen windows. No hijacked scrollbars or fixed widths. Nothing that deliberately messes with client side controls.
  • Most of it doesn't contain any images, and they never dominate navigation elements or page layout.
  • Of a host of stupid innovations still lurking from the first few explosions of browser features, it uses no: Frames, scrolling or animated text, rollovers, other pointless scripting, really pointless embedded applets, plugin specific content, or animated .gifs. It doesn't even use tables for anything but, well, tables - and tables weren't even that bad an idea when you think about it.

One of the satisfactions of having watched the web change over the past ten years or so is that the last item on that list is the now the least significant. People have learned to stop doing a lot of really dumb stuff even as it's become easier. It was certainly possible to abuse the features of Netscape Navigator in 1997, and many did, but the browsers of early 2004 represent an almost unprecedented canvas for potential awfulness.

Yet the web is getting better.2 Some things, like frames, are mostly restricted to places (like Google's image search) where they make some kind of sense. Others, like scripting, have become less obtrusive and actually found a few legitimate uses. (Working around stupid browser layout bugs or adding useful feature tweaks to browser toolbars are the ones I've noticed most.)

Some of this is probably due to the near market3 saturation of two or three dozen varieties of Internet Explorer. I think a lot of it is more about people slowly figuring out how to use the web. Just like it took time for people to realize that the specific conventions of live theater didn't apply very well to movies or TV.

1 And works like a command line parameter, which it effectively is. This is pretty basic, and I wish that more developers, both server side and browser UI people, would catch on. It would be worth developing the idea that the command line is still a dominant interface and a key element of most user experience.

2 Outside of the admittedly massive porn sector, at least. I wouldn't want to imply that porn isn't the most successful application of the web to date. (Probably the second most successful of the Internet as a whole, right after e-mail, depending on how you define success.)

3 But is it really a market? Really? Doesn't the idea of a market imply that some sort of decision or choice is being made by consumers who realize that they're exchanging value for a product or service? Suddenly I have a hard time believing that the present state of browser software represents a market much more than, say, the state of your average totalitarian regime. I'm not hostile to the idea of markets, but I'm starting to find some of the applications of the idea a little suspect. And I fucking hate being a "consumer" all the time.