Don’t Tell Me What to Do with my Website!

Don’t Auto Play Video

Last week, a friend of mine re-tweeted something that made me cringe:

My friend’s re-tweet had added a “This just in from 2001!”.

So look…the sentiment isn’t a bad one.  The snarky comment is full of snark, and I appreciate it.  What I have issue with is “Period.  End of story”.  That brief line right there encompasses all of my oogy feelings towards web development lately.  I do realize this is just a tweet, and if I had a nice discussion with Mr. Russell we’d probably agree.  But, nonetheless – here’s what I’m hearing from Mr. Russell: “You should never do that on the web, and if you do – I know better than you”.

I feel like I’m hearing this message from all corners lately.  And I wouldn’t tell Mr. Russell to stop saying it, instead I’d like to make a mental note to myself and web professionals in general  to develop a thicker skin, listen and evaluate according to needs of your audience and clients, but don’t succumb to peer pressure.

So, “Period.  End of story”?  No, that’s not the end of the story.  In fact, this directive from Mr. Russell is completely inapplicable to my work.  I spend most of my day dealing with online video.  I don’t work with Hulu, but Hulu is a good example.  If I deep link to a show or episode or clip, you’re damn right I want it to autostart.  That’s the whole point of Hulu.  You’re there to watch TV.  Having to take an extra step to click play is not the best for useability in this situation.

On the other hand, if Hulu were embedding their clip on someone’s blog – then yes, it’s wise to not auto-play the video.  Especially on mobile, it’s standard practice to conserve bandwidth – so auto starting a huge bandwidth suck isn’t desirable.

The message here is to evaluate the needs of your audience and weigh carefully what to do.  It sounds like Mr. Russell has a different audience and needs than I do – which is perfectly fine.  I’m also sure that some splashy mini-site drove him over the edge with a 1080p HD video that wasn’t necessary.

We can all vent – it’s cool 🙂  Just make sure to have a thick skin when you listen to other’s rants.


Don’t use Flash

There is a follow up rule to the “Don’t use Flash” rule, and that of course is “Don’t do web site intros”.  They aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but the “skip intro” sites heavily weigh towards Flash.

First lets talk intros.  Yes, I agree – it’s completely annoying to go to a restaurant’s website and have an animation with smooth jazz.  All I really want to do after all is look at their hours, find their number and make a reservation on my mobile device.  The Flash intro gets in the way here – and it’s super annoying.  This is why you’ll hear lots of “Death to skip intro sites!”.

Guess what though, just because someone’s ranting doesn’t mean you should listen.  Adrian Pomilio (@adrianpomilio) recently pointed out to me a great blog post called “The Difference Between Art and Design”.  It really has some great insight into what you achieve when you apply artistic motivation to something versus when you put your UI designer hat on.

The trend these days is towards useable sites.  It’s a good trend.  We need more useable sites in the world.  Reading text is great for instant information, and having a UI designer/architect get me where I want to go faster is fantastic.

That said – perhaps the point of my site isn’t to convey information.  Perhaps I’d rather have my site convey emotion and feeling.  Probably one big mistake of the “skip intro” restaurant owner is that being someone who likes to impress with their atmosphere and good food is that they are in the business of selling emotion and feeling – and this carries over to their site.

It’s not wrong to want to do that, but they need to evaluate why people are there and what they want to do.

Perhaps an intro would work better on a car companies site?  Car commercials regularly try to evoke power, speed, and sleekness.  Often when shopping for a car, I don’t find myself visiting, I find myself looking for local car dealers.  Therefore, the local dealers sites should be useable – however, what about  Here I might really want to sell the brand and evoke feeling rather than provide useful information.  I’d want to create a close tie with what I do in my TV commercials with what I aim to accomplish on my site.  So here, an intro, a game, or immersive interactive experience might be perfectly appropriate.

Of course there may also be information to convey – so the emotiveness of the website must be balanced with useablility.   Now I ask you, why is a “skip intro” button not appropriate here?  Because someone on Twitter made fun of them?  Don’t listen – have a thick skin, and defend yourself with well reasoned, articulate arguments based on the audience you are trying to reach or the client you are trying to please.

Is Flash wrong for doing such a site?  No – as long as you have facts to back up your decision.  You need to know your audience and the tools.  You need to realize that your Flash website won’t reach an iOS device and perhaps not even and Android device.  Do you care?  Have you determined that the best place to reach your target audience is on the desktop?

For these expressive sites, Flash is probably the best tool for the job.  Between 3D, video, and all of it’s advanced capabilites you want to work across the highest percentage of browsers. It’s a good tool for this (right now).  Does that mean that you won’t get made fun of somewhere on Twitter because “flash sucks”, or “flash is using all my CPUs”, or “use modern open source technologies”?  No – you’re pretty much asking for it with this crowd by using Flash.  And for every 1 angry open source nerd that blocks Flash, there are probably 50 less tech savvy that don’t know or don’t care.   Ask yourself – who are you trying to appease?


Don’t use Comic Sans

I think it all boils down to this.  “Don’t use X overused thing”.  This could be anything really.  If it’s overused, there’s probably an angry nerd knocking it.  And that’s fine – angry nerds will knock things.  Hell, I knock things too.  I don’t like Apple for example.  But guess what, i have to put up with them because for the short term they are popular, and for the time being they can be the best way to reach an audience.  I just have to know my audience and figure out what’s best.

One thing I’ve been guilty of knocking in the past, and went along with the angry pitchforked mob was the use of the Comic Sans font.   But why?  Its just a font, like any other.  Sure it’s overused – but why is that?  Well, let me answer – because it’s a decent font.  It’s easy to read and just a little playful.  If I told you I had a fun quirky font for you, would you stab me with your pitchfork?

The thing about Comic Sans, though, is that enough angry nerds seem to have gotten enough non-tech savvy people on board.   So now the font seems widely despised.  Does that mean you should never use Comic Sans?  Hell no – but you have to be careful.   Sure if you design a poster or Word Doc for grandma with comic sans she’ll think it’s a delightful treat –  and really who are you designing this for?  It’s for her, so as long as she’s happy it’s cool right?  Maybe, but chances are she’ll have some angry nerd nephew that will convince her it’s shit.   Comic Sans hate is so pervasive in our web culture, there seems to be a meta-audience of angry nerds that you may or may not have to worry about.

They aren’t your TARGET audience, but if they catch wind of what you did – you’ll get plastered all over twitter.  And not in a good way.


Should You Worry About the Meta-Audience?

Comic Sans is a pretty extreme example, and it’s easy enough to avoid.  So I dare say it might be good to avoid it.  I’d never say never though.  More often than not, those who use it probably just don’t know about the undercurrent of hatred for our fun friend.

Less extreme examples include all of the above in the post, and of course, a hell of a lot more.  But some are pretty hard to avoid using/doing (and yes I’m assuming you have a good reason for using/doing them).  The best advice is to know and research your audience well enough to make informed decisions.  That advice is ingrained in all of us who do this kind of work.

I will pose to you, though – you also need to know your meta-audience as well.  Will those angry nerds get angry over what you did?  Will they sabotage your project by persuading your target audience?  How do your audience and meta-audience interact?

Stuff to think about.  Best way to shut down angry nerds though?  Thick skin, well reasoned arguments, lots of research, politeness.  These tools, if used effectively should minimize the impact of your meta-audience.