Son of Web Pages That Suck - Book Review - Vincent Flanders Interview - WebReference Update - 020516
((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) May 16, 2002
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This week we review "Son of Web Pages That Suck" by Vincent Flanders and interview the author. It seems that WYSIWYG editors have just made it easier for designers to create bad web sites faster, so Flanders felt a second book was needed.
New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:
1. BOOK REVIEW: Son of Web Pages That Suck 2. INTERVIEW: Vincent Flanders on Web Pages That Suck
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Vincent Flanders' new "Son of Web Pages That Suck" is the sequel to his best-selling book "Web Pages That Suck." WPTS arose from the site he founded by the same name in 1996, WebPagesThatSuck.com. It seems that WYSIWYG editors have just made it easier for designers to create bad web sites faster, so Flanders felt a second book was needed.
Flanders takes a different approach to teaching usability than the likes of Nielsen and Norman. Through over the top humor and outrageous examples of bad web design he manages to teach good design while keeping us entertained. Flanders uses humor as a teaching aid because he's found that that people tend to learn better when they are entertained.
You'll find yourself laughing as you read this book. The book is peppered with full-color pictures of Flanders and friends in various getups: a devil, an angel, a mechanic, a flasher, and even in the tub ("Splish Splash Pages" chapter). It's all in good fun, as Flanders doesn't take himself too seriously. He makes his points without condescension. He even uses Johnny Cochran-like sayings to illustrate his points:
"If the Bits Don't Flow, People Will Go." "The Top's Gotta Pop or They're Not Gonna Stop."
The author is a marketing showman, using carnival-like PR:
TREMBLE at the horror that is Mystery Meat Navigation RUN SCREAMING from splishy splashy Flashy pages...
The book is a hybrid design and usability book aimed at beginning to intermediate designers. The book teaches good design practices through bad mistakes with scathing commentary on numerous really bad web sites. Through his web site's "Daily Sucker" and thousands of email suggestions Flanders has plenty of material to choose from.
The actual advice is common sense stuff that advanced users will already know like keeping text contrast high and file sizes low. However, even after years of preaching the gospel, usability experts are finding web designers repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Flanders shows what not to do, and offers suggestions on how to do it right.
Web design is about working within limitations. Unless you have what Flanders calls "heroin content," make your pages fast loading, easy to navigate, easy to read, and minimize extraneous features. He gives useful pointers throughout the book for graphics optimizers, validators, browser simulators, and includes a CD chock full of useful utilities to shrink and shape up your pages.
Flanders likes to say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that this book is for everybody. It is not quite in that category, but it will have a broader appeal than most web design books with its splashy graphics, non-technical approach, and Flanders' trademark humor. Some college professors have even adopted his book for their Web design courses because it doesn't put their students to sleep. Highly recommended.
Son of Web Pages That Suck By Vincent Flanders Sybex, 2002 $45.00 CD ISBN: 0-7821-4020-3
We talked to Vincent Flanders about his new book and some examples of great and not so great web designs.
WEBREF: What has the response been so far to your book?
V. FLANDERS: The response has been very, very good. People like the fact that I don't talk down to them like a DesignGod from MountHTML and they like the fact they don't fall asleep reading the book. People learn when they're entertained.
WR: Yes, your book is most amusing. All the funny poses, like the angelic "Sucks Not" feature. Is there anything you won't do for a laugh?
VF: Considering I've posed "almost nude" for a billboard, well...
WR: Give us an idea of how your site/books came about, and what you do.
VF: The site came about in the summer of '96 because I didn't want to teach a design class. It was easier - I thought - just to put up a site and then I'd be done with it <laughter>. It's still going strong after six years, which is sort of a sad commentary on Web design. Initially, I thought of giving it a different name, but I'm a marketing weasel so I gave it a name that had some punch - Web Pages That Suck. I thought about calling it "Web Sites With Problems," "Web Sites with Bad Pages," "Not So Good Design" but those titles well, they sucked. The book came about because I was featured on the cover of Web Week. A book agent saw my picture, called me up, and said, "Kid, I'm gonna make you a star."
WR: What caused you to write the sequel?
VF: Designers, being the clever folks they are, came up with some new sucky techniques that didn't make the first book. People were also making the same mistakes as before so I decided to update the content. Also, I spend more time trying to help people develop a critical eye. In this book I came up with something I call "The Two-Minute Offense" where you look at a page for two minutes and try to figure out everything that's wrong with it. Obviously, no usability study only takes two minutes, but I thought if I could get people to play speed chess with a site, they could train their creative eye to start looking for mistakes. It's too easy "just to look at a site" and let it go. I've got a live, online version of the Two-Minute Offense where you have just two minutes to look at a live site and compare what you found wrong with what I found wrong. It's at http://www.fixingyourwebsite.com/twominute.html. If you just want to skip to the good stuff, you can go to http://www.fixingyourwebsite.com/2minuteoffense/2minute.php
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WR: Give us some really bad examples of home pages?
VF: Well, Web Pages That Suck has a feature called "The Daily Sucker" where I give examples of live sites that readers send me. Here are some recent examples.
It isn't the home page, but a sub-page that has the most amazing navigation. After the page loads, the menu items on the top left disappear. I've never seen anything like it. http://www.provant.com/career/index.asp
This page has about 4.5Mb worth of images http://www.cubila.com/show_product.asp?type=AAGA - they load full- size pictures and then changed the HEIGHT= and WIDTH= parameters so they'd fit in a small space instead of making thumbnails. They could have cut the page size down significantly if they would have made thumbnail images.
A site similar to Provant is The National Curriculum Online http://www.nc.uk.net/home.html - they scroll through the boxes and you either wait until it goes past what you're looking for or you memorize the links.
For old school suck you can't go wrong with Orr Felt - http://www.orrfelt.com/.
I love the town, but hate the site - Albuquerque, NM http://www.albuquerquenm.com/ My question is: Where's the focus?
WR: What is the biggest home page you've ever seen?
VF: Unfortunately, it no longer exists, but there was this valet service that had a 12Mb home page. Yeah, 12Mb. Most of it was a video of - I kid you not - a guy opening and closing the door to a van. You would load the page and wait for this video and it would loop over and over. I guess it would be cool if you had never seen a van door open before. Seems like it was an MPEG file.
http://www.ocbfchurch.org/ had a 7Mb file on October 17, 2000
No kidding. 7Mb FlashSplash page. Even with a superfast connection it takes forever to load this page. Trust me. It isn't worth the wait.
http://www.sdsco.com/ was 5.8 Mb on February 11, 2000
Most of these sites have disappeared.
WR: What can designers do to not make your next book? :)
VF: Buy the current book and don't do anything you see in there. <g>
WR: I like the example site that had the floating pools. Why make navigation such a challenge?
VF: As a writer, you have to beware of falling in love with the sound of your own voice. The person who designed this site said, "You know, I can make the pools float like they're in water across the screen." Web design is like music. It isn't how many notes you can play, it's playing the right notes. It's the silences that are important.
WR: Give us some examples of sites that don't suck. (We know about Amazon.)
VF: I'm a marketing weasel, so I like anything that's shiny. I love all the experimental art sites. As far as "regular" sites I had a site as a Daily Sucker that was really great except for one detail - dark grey text on a light grey background - http://www.magpictures.com/main.php. I like just about anything PBS does, or National Geographic, or the Kota Mama Expedition site http://www.kotamama.com/ . Generally, I'm looking for content. I'm a content junkie.
My all-time favorite site is the International Herald Tribune - http://www.iht.com/ The designer(s) is a god among mortals. I bow down to his/her genius. It's just so !@#$$ amazing.
WR: Yes, I especially like the "clippings" feature. (available as open source at http://www.smokinggun.com/demos.
WR: What would you say to aspiring Web designers? What features should they avoid? What should they include?
VF: The best question to ask yourself is, "If I add this design element to my site, will people write me a check?" By design element I mean Flash, Java, a graphic, a logo, whatever.
When it comes to including material, the trick is to design the site to meet your audience's needs and expectations. When they go to a game site, they expect razzle-dazzle graphics, long load times, silly navigation, etc. When they visit a portal, they expect to be able to find information quickly. Designing a site to meet the audience's expectations is extremely important. For example, when you visit Ozzy Osbourne's site http://www.ozzy.com/ you get exactly what you expect. Now, imagine that this look is used on Dr. Andrew Weil's site http://www.drweil.com/ uh... cognitive dissonance. Dr. Weil's site is perfect for his audience, but wouldn't really work for Ozzy's and vice versa.
WR: Vincent, thanks for your time. It's been a pleasure.
That's it for this Thursday, see you next time.
Andrew King Newsletter Editor, WebReference.com aking at internet dot com
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