Improving HTML Forms accessibility

The single easiest improvements you can make to the usability of HTML Forms is to correctly use LABELs. And it helps all users, not just a subset. Its also a nice application of Fitt’s Law

s Use the label element to make your HTML forms accessible | 456 Berea Street

When checkboxes and radio buttons have properly associated labels, the label text will also be clickable, thus making the target area much larger and easier to hit. This obviously has usability benefits for all users.

Actual data helps improve interface design

We’re guilty of using guesses/gut feelings when putting a site together. Nielsen reminds us that even a few data points can help make better design decisions.

Guesses vs. Data as Basis for Design Recommendations (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

The general guideline is to use relative font sizes that let users resize (if they know how), but to display big and legible text as the default. This conclusion is based on numerous observations that show that many older users don’t have the skills to resize fonts.

Comedy Central leads the way

Good to see someone is finally asking their users to upgrade to IE6. I hope more websites start ignoring support for IE6 soon, since its such a headache to cater to. Of course, each will have to make its own cost-benefit decision, but we’re pretty close to the point that for most sites, supporting IE6 isn’t worth the time and effort. Just let your page degrade, and provide an avenue for users to upgrade.

Comedy Central New Site Dev Blog: Hey Hey! Ho Ho! IE6 Has Got To Go!

Why? Microsoft wants you to. IE6 has many issues with security and display. Comedy Central wants you to. Once you upgrade to FireFox (Windows or Mac), or IE7 (Windows), you’ll get faster download times, smoother animations and better looking pages.

We all should skip Photoshop

37signals lists 7 good reasons to avoid using Photoshop to create mockups for web sites or applications. I’ve found this practice utterly annoying for all the reasons that they mention but I don’t see it going away soon. Sadly most “web designers”, yes-that’s an intentional set of quotes, are much more fluent in creating Photoshop files than they are workign in CSS and HTML. Also, invariable, the designer throws in some widget, extra functionality, or weird, artsy border that is nigh on impossible to recreate in one browser, much less all major web browsers.

2 Photoshop gives you too many tools to focus on the details. When you use Photoshop you can’t help but pay attention to the details. The alignment, the specific colors, the exact shapes, the little details that may matter eventually but they certainly don’t matter now. The start is about the substance, not about the details. Details are for later.

A Shocking Truth about Web Designers

Shockingly, Web Designers should know how to design for the web, not just for Photoshop.  Its a point that was driven home during my recent trip to California for Forum One’s (my employer) Online Community Summit. While I may not have done a comprehensive survey, I visited another web company there, and also met a number of folks who work in Silicon Valley.  The former shared that their internal IA/Interface team were proficient in CSS/Javascript/HTML and used their skills to produce HTML prototypes, not sites idealized in Photoshop.  Similary, another person who described there job as a "designer" involved the complete lifecyle from paper prototyping, html prototyping, to final development.

A post on 37 signals, where someone asked "Do I need a designer to make pretty?" pretty much confirms this notion.  I’m hopeful that we’re finallly seeing a transition away from "Designers" as the folks to got into the web from a print/media background to a new generation who got their design feet wet online, and are comfortable with the technologies therein. 

Thinking of designers as someone who paints the application pretty in Photoshop is a common but unfortunate misconception. We certainly don’t have any designers like that. Instead, our designers apply their talents to the native materials of the web by working directly with HTML, CSS, and occasionally Ruby code or JavaScript.

That said, having good visual design skills is pretty hard.  There’s a whole set of right-brain skills that can be harder to excercise, hone, as you can clearly see on my sites.

Justified text hurts readibility

Some people like fully justified text.  I guess it brings another layer of perceived order to an otherwise chaotic universe.  If you choose to implement it on a web page, be warned that legibility suffers due to the crude justification algorithms implemented in browsers.

But even with sophisticated page layout software, justified text blocks often suffer from poor spacing and excessive hyphenation and require manual refinement. This level of control is not even a remote possibility on Web pages. The most recent browser versions (and CSS) support justified text, but it is achieved by crude adjustments to word spacing. Fine adjustments are not possible on low-resolution computer displays and are impractical to implement in today’s Web browsers. Also, Web browsers are unlikely to offer automatic hyphenation any time soon, another "must" for properly justified text. For the foreseeable future, the legibility of your Web documents will suffer if you set your text in justified format.

Flash, Silverlight, all worthless

Now that we’re starting to get some benefits from maturing HTML, CSS, and Javascript implementations, via libraries like Prototype, Scriptaculous, Jquery, mootools, and so on, along come the vendors hawking their own proprietary re-invention of the same thing.  Wheter its Adobe’s Flash/Apollo/Flex, Microsofts’s recently demo’d Silverlight, or Sun’s rumoured own re-imagining of it all.  But who am I to listen to, go read Mark Pilgrim’s take on it, Silly Season.

Sigh. I used to have the strength to argue against such foolishness. Nowadays I’m reduced to nothing more than Grey’s-Anatomy-esque catchphrases. Seriously? Seriously? Do I really have to explain why this is a bad idea? Again?

In the same vein, Sandy has some thoughts on why Flash isn’t all its cracked up to be, it would make a good item to post on his blog.

When a metaphor fits like a glove

Sandy found this gem, which probably applies to more professions than just Web Designers.  Working with clients such as these can be really trying, but what can you do to get through it?

If Architects Had to Work Like Web Desginers…

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can arbitrarily pick one.