Jeffrey Veen: WebReference Featured Interview | 2 | WebReference

Jeffrey Veen: WebReference Featured Interview | 2

Interview with Jeffrey Veen

On Interface Consistency

WR> Like Nielsen and Krug you advocate using existing de facto interface conventions on the Web, to minimize learning time for new users. (Like search in upper right, etc.) You mention link colors, page layouts, navigational systems, and visual hierarchy. What are some of the other current interface conventions on the Web?

JV> There are quite a few that are emerging - some good and some bad. The ubiquitous 468x60 ad banner is one (and I'll let you decide if it's a good or bad one). I've also seen a lot of sites making effective use of tab-based navigation. I'm happy to see registration forms and ecommerce checkout interfaces starting to become standardized. There is no reason I should have to decipher just how a company wants my information. In fact, ecommerce sites are good examples of the effectiveness of interface consistency. I imagine it has something to do with the direct effect good UI has on bottom line sales.

WR> What are the biggest mistakes designers make on the Web?

JV> Oh this one is still an easy question to answer. Site after site I visit completely misunderstand their audience. They build hyper-active Flash-based animations with thump-thump techno loops when all their audience wants is some information. I wanted to buy a new leather bag for my laptop and visited to see what selection they had. After a couple minutes of dancing images of attractive models in stylish clothing, I just went over to

WR> You mention some sites that inspire you like that uses an innovative "chaser" navigational system yet shows some design restraint. Can you give us some more examples of sites you enjoy, that push the envelope?

JV> Oh, I just really enjoy sites that innovate, since so much of the work I do is commercial and at such a large scale that it becomes fairly consistent and conservative. I look for inspiration at sites like and the Kaliber 10000 guys at I also like video game support sites. Go look at any of the sites behind the game Half Life.

Not only do the designers of these sites embrace a particular aesthetic, but they do so with a fanaticism you seldom see in commercial Web sites. There's a site of personal story-telling called The Fray,, that is an excellent example of content illustration without constraint. And I maintain that large-scale, commercial sites have a lot to learn from them.

WR> I especially enjoyed your chapter on speed. Some say I'm a bit obsessed myself with webref's front page. How important is it for webmasters to simplify and crunch bytes on their busiest pages?

JV> Speed is the absolute most critical factor in the usability of a site. Even the most elegant interface will fail if a user doesn't wait around for it to load. Not only that, but if your site is doing a fair amount of traffic, each byte on your pages is costing your company money in bandwidth. I was talking to the CIO of a big portal who had figured out that each character of HTML was costing them 19 cents a year. How's that for ROI on design?

WR> Wow! Definitely gets the point across. I'm big on getting small. One of your fellow New Rider's authors, Steve Krug talks about cutting your copy in half, and doing it again. What's a reasonable front page HTML size for information sites? Do you think Jakob goes too far?

JV> Sure, Jakob probably goes too far. But considering how ubiquitous the painfully slow sites are, I suppose we need a radical voice out there. You know what's really striking, though? I heard a VP at Yahoo talking recently about the speed of their site. He said that even corporate users with massive connections within the enterprise complain about slow sites. They've got all the bandwidth they could need, and are accessing one of the leanest sites on the Web, and they want it even faster. They want Web sites to respond as fast as the apps do on their new gigahertz computers. Know what that means? Broadband won't solve any of our interface performance problems on the Web. Your company doesn't need a broadband strategy. You need to solve these problems with design.

WR> You started at, then, then Lycos. What are you working on now? What are you planning for the future?

JV> I left Lycos recently to do some user experience consulting. I'd like to take these principles and apply them to other genres of sites, like ecommerce, or corporate identity sites, or intranets. I'm working right now with a small group of experienced designers and architects and really enjoy the collaboration.

WR> Is there a Web site for the book?

JV> I'm developing one at Currently, you can find out more about the book and see a summary of chapters, but eventually we'll post the code examples from the book and put other resources there.

WR> What did you learn by writing this book?

JV> That writing books is hard. ;) And beyond that, I've learned that most designers want to do the right thing, but often get hampered by things like internal politics or a lack of resources. One of the things I worked really hard at in this book is showing how designers can use the technologies available to them as an empowering tool. Database-driven Web sites aren't just the realm of the Fortune 500. You can exploit things like reusable content and template systems to do more work and do it better. The line between design and programming is getting more and more blurry. And that makes me happy.

Further Reading

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Jeffrey Veen is an internationally sought-after speaker, author and user experience consultant. As the Executive Interface Director for Wired Digital, he managed the look and feel of HotWired, the HotBot search engine, Wired News and others. He specializes in the integration of content, graphic design, and technology from a user-centered perspective.

In addition to lecturing and writing on Web design and development, Jeffrey has been active with the World Wide Web Consortium's CSS Editorial Review Board as an invited expert on electronic publishing. He is also a columnist for Webmonkey, the author of the acclaimed books The Art & Science of Web Design and HotWired Style: Principles for Building Smart Web Sites. In 1998, Jeffrey was named by CNet as one of the "First Annual Web Innovators." He can be reached at

Comments are welcome

Revised: Jan. 11, 2001