Web Reading UX Etcetera Part 2

Excerpts from more interesting posts. Yes, the themes are similar, but I enjoy the number of people who share similar thoughts about how some websites are unnecessarily over-designed. Unfortunately, opposing views make knee-jerk claims that we want ALL websites to look like something built in 1995, and that we want no JavaScript anywhere. False and False. Tech people should be better at critical thinking.

While a text-heavy website that was designed like it was 1995 would load faster and would be more useful when viewed on a phone than many of today's bloated media websites, we like using some of today's modern features to make the sites more comfortable to read on phones and other devices. In my opinion, JavaScript is welcomed for websites that function more like an app for users who need to log into the site, such as Fastmail.

But I believe that websites should trim down when all or nearly all of the users who visit the site do not log into the site. These are browsing-only users or readers who should not be bludgeoned with 5 to 10 megabytes or more of bloatware when accessing a single web page.

But many of those websites have "stakeholders" who love to use "analytics" in an attempt to "monetize" their content, instead of prioritizing on designing with empathy for their readers. Maybe respecting the readers by creating a comfortable web-reading experience could lead to more traffic and more revenue, depending upon the business model.

The business model that relies on obnoxious advertising bloatware is probably unsuccessful. I think that more media orgs, especially local newspapers, should create clean, simple, fast-loading websites and charge a fee to read it.

It's obvious that many publishers, website owners, designers, and developers do not care about the people visiting their websites.

Design By Writing

Create a Comfortable Reading Experience


Designers with personal sites should experiment with new layout models when they can.

Many people who’ve visited this site since the redesign have commented on the big type. It’s hard to miss. After all, words are practically the only feature I haven’t removed.

This redesign is a response to ebooks, to web type, to mobile, and to wonderful applications like Instapaper and Readability that address the problem of most websites’ pointlessly cluttered interfaces and content-hostile text layouts by actually removing the designer from the equation.

That’s not all these apps do, but it’s one benefit of using them, and it indicates how pathetic much of our web design is when our visitors increasingly turn to third party applications simply to read our sites’ content. It also suggests that those who don’t design for readers might soon not be designing for anyone.

This redesign is deliberately over the top, but new ideas often exaggerate to make a point. It’s over the top but not unusable nor, in my opinion, unbeautiful. How can passages set in Georgia and headlines in Franklin be anything but beautiful? I love seeing my words this big. It encourages me to write better and more often.

We can’t keep designing as we used to if we want people to engage with our content. We can’t keep charging for ads that our layouts train readers to ignore. We can’t focus so much on technology that we forget the web is often, and quite gloriously, a transaction between reader and writer.

I don’t think you will see much type quite this big but I do think you will see more single-column sites with bigger type coming soon to a desktop and device near you. For a certain kind of content, bigger type and a simpler layout just make sense, regardless of screen size.

In today’s monitors and operating systems, yesterday’s classic web fonts—the ones that come with most everyone’s computer—can look pretty danged gorgeous at large sizes. Try tired old Times New Roman. You might be surprised.


The fonts that are most safe to use are:
Arial / Helvetica
Times New Roman / Times
Courier New / Courier

Other options that usually work cross-platform are:
Avant Garde

Fonts that work on Windows and MacOS but not Unix+X are:
Comic Sans MS
Trebuchet MS
Arial Black

On my Ubuntu Linux desktop computer, I had to install a font package to get Verdana to function.

February 2017 arstechnica.co.uk - Now sites can fingerprint you online even when you use multiple browsers
Related Hacker News thread

HN comment with my emphasis added:

These are my thoughts (as a webdeveloper):
We have 5 big browsers and 3 OS's that we need to support (different rendering, different canvas rendering, not to mention 3d rendering quircks, different installed fonts), I think we don't need yet another way to make our lives difficult. I understand that privacy is a big issue, but think about "normal" web developers who just want to show a cool working website to their users, but need to display this message to them: "Thank you for looking at our website, but unfortunately your browser is in lite JavaScript mode. Please set it to full functionality again and restart your browser en go to our site once more.".

Cool-looking website? The word "cool" does not mean "useful". If the site promotes a movie or a video game or artwork of some kind, then a cool-looking website would make sense.

But if the site contains mainly text, and if readers access the site mainly to increase knowledge about a subject, then in my opinion, the site needs to lean more toward utility than cool-looking. Is Wikipedia cool-looking? Could be. Maybe it's all in the eye of the beholder. But I consider Wikipedia to be more of a utility than art.

HN comment that was a reply to the above HN comment:

My brain melted out of my ears when I read this sentence. Why on Earth do you need JavaScript to display a "cool" website? So you can make the text fade in for no reason? I think you need to re-think what the Internet is for.

Too many people on both sides of the debate think in binary terms. I don't think that I want a web-based tax prep site, web email, a survey-building site, a project management site, CMS, a server hosting admin site, etc. to function with zero JavaScript.

Yes, those sites could probably be built without JS, but if JavaScript provides utility and makes the user experience better, then that's good. I want to log in, perform tasks, and then move on. I'm disinterested in being wowed by coolness. The JavaScript needs to function well in the background, like an offensive lineman in American football.

For websites/webapps that require users to login, JavaScript helps the users' needs. For websites that only serve browsing-only users or readers, is JavaScript required? It depends upon the content, but for text-heavy sites, I don't think JavaScript is needed.

When I work in my small, urban backyard garden, I dig with my hands or a small shovel. I don't need a backhoe. But a construction company that needs to dig the foundation for a home should probably use a backhoe or something similar and not a small hand shovel.

Time and place. Purpose. It's silly to say no JavaScript for all websites, and it's silly to say that JavaScript should be used on all websites.

sawv.org uses no JavaScript in the HTML pages. But when I log into my Wren code that creates the HTML, I have the option to create and update files, using a JavaScript editor or interface in the browser. I can also choose to create and update, using a large HTML textarea box.

For my Waxwing image uploader web app, I rely on client-side JavaScript to reduce the size and quality of the image to make the upload faster. But when viewing the simple stream of images on a Waxwing-based site, no JavaScript is used.

Another HN comment:

Let me address the "normal" web developers then: Don't use cookies. Don't use Javascript. Turning off all the cruft makes websites MORE usable not less. Plain text, offers the highest information density available. So do you want dancing monkeys on your screen, or do you want information?

Again, it depends. If the site is a video game that requires JavaScript, then well, duh. But if the site is a newspaper that produces mainly text, then yes, the site is more usable with JavaScript disabled.

For-profit media orgs and other publishers want to make some money from their websites, and that means, unfortunately, using JavaScript, adds, trackers, and other bloatware that have zero to do with the content.

HN comment that exemplifies the binary aspect of the debate:

Given that popular uses for the Web today include social networking, e-commerce, web apps, and online access to services like banking, I think the idea that sites should just display static information and should work better without JS and cookies is at least a decade out of date. Pushing for a very limited web is a battle that was lost long ago.

Sigh. No, I'm not pushing for no JavaScript and no cookies for interactive websites/webapps that require users to login. I use cookies and JavaScript for my own web apps that require me to login.

I wish people would qualify the discussion between logged-in, interactive web app sites, like banking, and text-heavy, browsing-only websites, such as newspapers and blogs.

Yes, it's possible that the newspaper provides a login function for subscribers, which would probably require the use of cookies, but is JavaScript needed?

At least that HN commenter finished with:

What needs to stop is the idea that just because JS is useful for interactive aspects of sites, it should also provide access by default to 1,945,255 other features that 99.9999% of sites have no legitimate use for.

That's qualifying the discussion.

But another HN commenter fails to understand the difference:

Throwing web-interactivity (via Javascript) away today is like throwing your computer away. Computers help you be more productive, but it also helps the people who want to profile you. What's the alternative?

When geeks can understand the difference, then maybe things will improve.

When I access the ToledoBlade.com, I do so with JavaScript disabled because it makes the pages load faster, and the experience is smoother. But when I access my email at Fastmail, which obviously requires me to be logged in, then I need to have JavaScript enabled, which is fine.

HN comment:

From firsthand experience, I've learned to live with broken websites and often end up not using sites that rely heavily on javascript, and especially not sites that rely heavily on loading javascript from third-party domains. The worst offenders, by far, are news sites. Coming close are just about every startup that has a heavy focus on fancy web front end.

Thus far in that HN thread, nobody mentioned the GNU IceCat web browser that is a modified Firefox with the following defaults:

The GNU IceCat web browser protects your freedom and your privacy!
- Block execution of non-free JavaScript (experimental)
- Block privacy trackers
- Request pages in English
- Use system fonts
- Disable JavaScript

Battle Web Page Bloat

August 2015 The Fastest Blog In The World
August 2015 related Hacker News thread
February 2017 related Hacker News thread