Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Little Progress on the Keyhole Front

In 2003, I published a draft chapter of what I hoped would eventually become a book called The Keyhole Problem. "Keyholes" are technically unjustified restrictions on what you can say or express (you can read more about them here), and one of the examples I included in the chapter was a shot of a full-screened web page showing driving directions to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston:
I complained about how the designers of this page, presumably in an attempt to ensure it would look good on hand-held devices, actually ensured that it would look good only on hand-held devices.

But that was 12 years ago. Surely things have improved, especially at companies with keen design sensibilities. Or perhaps not. I recently used Apple's chat support, and this is what I saw on my screen:
Sigh.

On the plus side, the page for the Hynes Convention Center has improved:

Scott

7 comments:

Irfan said...

Hello Scott,

Although I have yet to establish the authenticity of some initial statements that I have read about eye fatigue caused by the length of lines in any publication, however, if whatsoever little material I have read on this subject does not fall in the category of the unsubstantiated fluff that accounts for the 90-95% material currently filling the digital void, then the page that you have linked to in the aforementioned text suffers from a few issues. According to the as yet unsubstantiated material which I have mentioned in the initial statement, the lines of text with greater than 75 characters slowly but surely start to cause eye fatigue; use of small font certainly does not help, although in case of modern browsers, the user can, with a few key strokes, overcome that.

Unless Arial, because of one reason or another, ranks highly on your list of preferred fonts, then I certainly believe that it should have, at least by now, become a part of studies in type design and firmly confined to the chapters discussing what not to do when designing a type face. In my opinion, the design of its letters places too great a strain on the readers' eyes.

Irfan.

Scott Meyers said...

I agree, my Keyhole Problem web site design isn't what it might be. I don't worry about line length, because that's determined by the width of the browser window, which is under the reader's control. And at the time I designed the page, I assumed that readers could change the font size in their browser, too, because in 2002, I believe all major browsers supported that. (I've recently discovered that Safari on iPad doesn't offer this feature, but that wasn't an issue when the page was designed.)

At any rate, I don't think the design of the web site should affect the arguments I make about keyholes. As far as I know, the web site itself doesn't have any.

Irfan said...

Hello Scott,

As my complete response — which includes a detailed response to the statements that you have made in the introductory paragraph of your initial response, comments on your Keyhole principle, and then some justifications that shed light on why certain expressions either feel muted, asphyxiated, or stifled — has exceeded the 4096 character limit placed by Blogger team (people at Twitter claim they invented the idea of limited expression), hence I would be furnishing the response in two instalments: the first instalment responds to your statements concerning what a user can do to alleviate the situation; second instalment lists not only the assumption the design of your website makes but also the reasons, which I consider quite plausible, for the state of design and rhetoric on the web. So you will have to deal with another couple of posts, so bear with me.

Sincerely,

Irfan.

Irfan said...

Instalment 1: What a user can do to tackle a design problem in a web site.

Considering that the entity either credited with or claimant of transforming the bleak and desolate landscape of UX discourse pertaining to web enabled artefacts into a fertile scene which has resulted in not only works of erudition capable of reshaping a designer’s approach to design but also recalibration of the designs of various channels for the better, in all probably, has yet to celebrate its first 10 year anniversary, therefore, most of the website designs from the late 90s and early 2000s probably do not deserve scathing critiques. However, in case of people with wealth of information and degrees from Ivy League universities, people always expect better than the average person: they had outperformed the average to above average person on almost all occasions, so why lower the standards now.

Before commenting on the statements in the introductory paragraph of your response, I would like to expand on your definition of “Keyholes:” unjustified restrictions on what you can express, either using words or in another format, or unnecessary demands on the user to manage whatsoever has been said owing entirely to the designer’s chosen or actual perspective: probably another way of expressing the same idea.

Based on the foregoing, the design of your website places unnecessary demands on the user, which the user, based on his or her level of awareness of the system, has to then manage. For example, just as you have listed a few ways to calibrate the environment so to consume the text in a manner that the reader prefers, in case of the screen shot that you have included in your initial post, you could have simply relied on the browser’s magnifier to manage the situation. Considering that I do not remember exactly when magnifiers became a part of the browsers, you could have made use of the Windows built in magnifier to make the design more palatable.

If both of the aforementioned options failed to produce the desired effect, you could have simply opened up the web developer tools and adjusted the width of the parent element: the contained text, in most cases, gets reflowed without a hitch. You could have made use of the screen reader, instead of persisting with a poor design.

Whether browsers in those days used to offer developer tools, I do not actually know, as I only ventured into this arena in the year 2007, and by then these tools had become available. However, in case of the chat session with Apple’s customer support, you certainly could have managed the situation using any, or a combination, of the aforementioned ways; you decided not to.

Irfan.

Irfan said...

The Keyhole Principle, Design of Your Website, and Some Justifications

As I have stated earlier, considering that you developed the website in 2002, it certainly does not merit a harsh criticism. However, it certainly sheds some light on your world view at the time; in other words, “the keyhole you either chose to look, considering your wealth of experience, or had been looking through to assess the behavior of your users.”

Its design makes at least the following couple of assumptions:

1. The users of web browsers, or any desktop application for that matter, do not mind resizing the application’s window to improve their viewing experience. I certainly would like to disagree. Having spent time at three different organizations and having been a large-to-somewhat-large screen user for more than a decade now, I can say with certainty that most users of desktop applications like to view content or carry out operations in full screen mode. If I were to say that even the designers of the desktop applications and websites expect their users to either use the application or view the content in full screen mode for a better user experience or viewing experience, then I probably won’t be incorrect.

2. Ordinary users like to explore the options offered by an application in detail. I would once again would like to disagree. Ordinary user of any artefact, not necessarily digital artefacts, mostly suffers in ignorance instead of investing time in finding solutions to his or her problems. In case of the majority, even the acceptance fails to materialize that a problem exists. Little wonder psychologists charge a fortune for telling the sufferers that they have a problem that they first must accept: most people get referred to psychologists by other people, in case the aforementioned statement sounded self contradictory.

When it comes to justifications, or the lack of them, concerning the state of design on the web, I believe one, or some, of the following hold true:

1. Resentment caused by low wages: extremely incompetent lawyers with 2 to 3 years degrees, prior to which they had failed to deliver even average performances, enjoy luxuries, whereas people with technical skills continue to suffer. Same holds true in case of otherwise extremely incompetent sportsmen.

2. Hiring low skilled to unskilled labour at dirt cheap prices to deliver the product. When I got hired for my first job as a C++ programmer/Software Engineer, with the exception of the knowledge of a couple of arcane topics and the thorough study of only the Data Structures course, I had extremely little knowledge of and interest in computer science. However, I still got hired.

3. Poor hiring processes even when you have the money available to deliver the product: the inability to determine the right match.

Well, for the time being, in response to your concluding statement and the argument, I have this much to say. Regarding the statement that most, not all, of the websites designed in the late 90s and early 2000s do not merit scathing reviews, the fact that well funded giants had this to offer (some extra design inspirations for the curious), I believe that the statement has solid foundations.

Concerning the time it took me to furnish the response, after reading your response, for the next two days, around 50 — 55 hours or so, I had the distinct pleasure of having my faculties, the ability to communicate and even move around freely, held hostage by some of the most incompetent individuals you would ever find, in case you have any interest in studying incompetence.

Sincerely,

Irfan.

Irfan said...
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web lol said...
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