Are you an arrogant web designer?

If you are the person responsible for BlogLines, you are.

Before I get into my rant, let me classify site designs into three buckets:

  • Arrogant: common among Mac and Linux people. They discount windows and Internet Explorer on religious grounds, code up page layouts to look good in their favorite browser (FireFox, Safari) and assume that because their browser of choice is known to be fairly standards compliant, their work is therefore standards compliant.

    There are two fallacies with this approach: first, just because browser X renders something one way, it does not necessarily mean that that is the right way (either due to bugs or ambiguity in the standard definition) and, more importantly, they've completely ignored the user.

    You can code to standards all you want and have it look right in FireFox, but if over half of your website visitors use IE and the page is broken in IE, guess what -- you are saying to your visitors that they are morons and you know better -- i.e. you are (an) arrogant (fool).
  • Sloppy: you know that 90% of your visitors use IE, and so you code to that browser and never even check how things look in your second most popular browser. Needless to say, this trait is common among Microsoft developers. It is sloppy because without checking, there is no way to know how the website looks to the other 10% and so an intelligent decision can't be made about whether or not the effort to satisfy all 100% of the website visitors is worthwhile. Chances are, if a site is coded to IE and it looks different in FireFox, the effort to fix things up may be pretty small.
  • Responsible: a responsible web designer knows her audience from empiric data, tests on at least the top three browsers, and makes informed decisions about tradeoffs of fully supporting each browser platform. For bonus points, a responsible web designer notifies visitors whose experience with the website may be sub par due to their browser choice and informs them of their options.

So lets bring it back to BlogLines. Fire it up in FireFox and it looks peachy (except for a bunch of CSS errors, but we won't go there). Now fire it up in IE. Looks pretty good, right? Try moving your mouse over the active navigation tab (most likely “My Feeds“). One of two things will happen: best case, you'll get a quick flicker and the mouse cursor will quickly change to hourglass and back. Worst case, the background will briefly flash though.

An argument can be made that this is not a big deal, the site works just fine after all, and maybe discount this as sloppy. But its more than that. This is the sort of thing that a lot of people will experience and it will contribute to their impression of the site (conscious or otherwise). The fact that this will be experienced by the majority of the web site's visitors is what makes this an arrogant omission rather than just a sloppy one.

Root cause: the designer implemented a rollover technique with pure CSS. What happens though is that IE tries to retrieve the image on each rollover and the combination of the state of the browser cache and network conditions can conspire to force a noticeable lag time while the image is loaded. Yes, FireFox handles this better. Bottom line though -- user experience is impacted for the majority of the site's visitors. Fix? Easy: preload images. It may not be as simple or elegant, but who are you trying to impress? It should be your users!

So don't be an arrogant web designer -- remember who you are doing this for.

posted @ Thursday, February 23, 2006 11:06 AM

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