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I've got to ask - what is it with the current web design trend wherein the "good" thing to do seems to be to create webpages that are impossible to use?

Now I agree with WebPagesThatSuck which says that you can design your personal page to be whatever you want. Obviously that's fine. Someone's personal page is their own thing. I'm not complaining about that. What I am complaining about are sites that are specifically designed for other people, eg business web sites, archives and the like.

First off - what's with the splash pages? I mean if you really have a need to warm me about frames, CSS or what res to put my monitor on, fine. Ditto if you want to warn for things like slash and/or NC17 stuff. But I'm seeing way too many sites out there that seem to be putting up splash pages because other sites have splash pages, not because they realize that those other splash pages had, you know, content. How have people missed the lesson that unless your splash page is conveying useful information it is ass? Splash pages for the sake of having a picture aren't good, people. It's what we like to call bad web design.

Then we get the variation on the splash page thing which I so don't get, to wit the page that contains a picture (ok), technical warnings (ok), slash or rating warnings (ok) and then no obvious link to get into the damn site (Whaaa?)

Honestly - I'm asking in all seriousness - is this being done deliberately? Because I see this a lot on fanfic sites and I'm wondering if this is a deliberate choice to make it hard for TPTB to find the fanfic. If so, okay. But if not then why are people doing it? You put the page up. Presumably you want other people to see it or else why upload it to the net? So then why is the link into the real site hidden? I can't tell you how many pages I've seen where the link isn't obvious (more on this in a sec) and/or is in very tiny letters that are impossible to read given the color combinations of the page.

Again - if you are seriously trying to keep the links hidden, then well done. I do know that in some fandoms it's necessary to do that. However if you're not in one of those fandoms allow me to make the radical suggestion that the big-ass picture you've put on the splash page is supposed to be the link to the main site. You can have others if you want, but understand that your viewing audience is looking at that picture. If they can't click on it (why?) then you need to make the link they can click on very obvious. Then they can - again with the radical suggestions here - view your page. That's what we like to call the point.

Next up is something that I've seen with both archives and businesses (although many businesses screw up the splash page idea as well). Links need to be obvious. What do I mean by that? The following:

We need to know what to click on. Pick a link format and only use that format for links. If your links are underlined then don't use underlines to format your text. If you've got a nav. bar on your page then don't make other things that look like nav. bars but aren't. If your text looks one way don't format the links to blend into the text because - guess what? - that makes your links blend into the text. We can't use your links if we can't find them. (A related note to this is to, for the love of God, double check the colors you pick so that they don't totally wash out after they've been clicked on. I can't count how many pages I've seen with black backgrounds that have a vlink color of dark purple. Thanks, thanks heaps.) (Related note #2 - don't make regular links purple and visited links blue. It's just silly.)

We need to know what we're clicking on. This is a website, not a game of memory or a mindreading practice session . Now if you want to get clever with your link names by all means do so, but realize that it's got to make sense to somebody who's not you. Don't want to call your fanfic section "Fanfic"? Fine. "Stories" "Library" "Fiction" "Reading" - whatever (Heck, you could even call it the orang-utan hangout if you were a fan of Discworld). But something that relates to the concept of fanfic. Likewise your links page, likewise your rants, likewise your blog, etc. Because whatever cool factor you think giving these pages "unique" names is going to give you is going to be radically hurt by the annoyance people will have trying to figure out what the hell you're saying. A nav bar of something twee like "red" "blue" "green" "yellow" or "Moonlight" "Sunlight" "Clouds" had better be for pictures and weather reports respectively or else we'll be too busy rolling our eyes to bother wondering what you meant and how to translate it into something useful.

Likewise watch your mouseovers. Mystery Meat Navigation (tm WPTS) is the stupidest idea to come along since - well - hard to find enter links, twee link names, pointless splash pages and square wheels. If you want to have mouseovers you go nuts. But the mouseovers need to make sense. It should be clear from the start what the links are. I shouldn't have to mouseover to find out that the picture of a coke bottle goes to your fanfic page and the purple swirly thing is your guestbook. And there shouldn't be so many mouseovers loading in the background that it takes me five years to download your site in the first place. (Unless you're in a tech-oriented business in which case having a tech-heavy and graphics-heavy site makes sense. Ditto sites about graphics, such as picture archives). Again - people need to use the site. Nobody can use a site if they can't figure out what the links are, where the links are, or where the links are linking too.

Finally, the site has to be readable. I won't go all extreme and say that you can't have a black background ever - I've seen plenty of sites with black backgrounds and I even had one myself back in the day. It's doable. But the text has to contrast. You can't have a back background and, say, peach text. Or a tan background and white text, or a white background with grey text - I think you get the idea.

Likewise if you're a fiction archive remember that we're there to read the stories. Anything smaller than a 10 point font (to the eye) is too small. Any fic window that is the size of an index card is too small. People want to read the stories and print the stories, not marvel at the pretty web design. Yes - design a lovely page if you want, I've seen many an archive that was gorgeous to look at, but don't do it at the expense of being able to read the fiction. Check out Kita's Slashing the Angel for a good example - pretty page, still readable fiction (and note that the big picture on the splash page is clickable). Inertia, a Willow/Angel archive OTOH, is not as good. Yes the splash page image is clickable and yes the regular text has a good contrast, but the words are small and the links are dark red on a black background - and they get a line through them when you mouseover. As though striking the text out makes people think that they're in a good position for clicking. (the font they chose for their link buttons is pretty cruddy as well).

What amazes me most of all is that good web design is not that hard. It's all common sense. What do you want people to be able to do on your site? Make that thing easy to do. After that you're pretty much done. Why go through the extra work of making it difficult for people?

Color me confused.

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