19 votes

Nothing works: Why is it so hard to find things that work well?

25 comments

  1. [21]
    mat
    Link
    Well, give that guy 100 irony points for complaining that nothing works in text formatted so atrociously it's essentially unreadable. If it wasn't for reader mode I'd have never made it to the end...

    Well, give that guy 100 irony points for complaining that nothing works in text formatted so atrociously it's essentially unreadable. If it wasn't for reader mode I'd have never made it to the end of the first paragraph. Also, as is so often the case with tech people writing words, at least 50% of the text wasn't necessary. Too many words is not efficient. It's inelegant, it's bad design. I find it interesting that these sort of people almost certainly value elegant, optimised code - but often don't apply those standards to written English.

    So I guess he's doing a great job proving his own point, at least.

    Anyway, I'll save you all some time: "Capitalism prefers profitable things to optimally designed ones. Efficient often isn't the same thing as profitable. A huge amount of people simply don't care about good design. Film at eleven."

    16 votes
    1. [14]
      vord
      Link Parent
      This site respects my browser settings on both my phone and desktop, giving me a clear picture in a color scheme I like. Voila. Better than a solid 80% of sites I've been to this week.

      This site respects my browser settings on both my phone and desktop, giving me a clear picture in a color scheme I like.

      Voila. Better than a solid 80% of sites I've been to this week.

      8 votes
      1. [13]
        mat
        Link Parent
        Looking how you want is entirely possible without being unusable for other people. Also other sites being worse doesn't make Luu's site any good.

        Looking how you want is entirely possible without being unusable for other people. Also other sites being worse doesn't make Luu's site any good.

        8 votes
        1. [11]
          vord
          Link Parent
          The amazing thing is: Other people have this power too. I didn't do anything magical. Just learned to use my tools. I have no sympathy for people that don't learn to use a hammer then smash their...

          The amazing thing is: Other people have this power too. I didn't do anything magical. Just learned to use my tools.

          I have no sympathy for people that don't learn to use a hammer then smash their thumbs. Then complain that hammer makers need to make thumb-smash-proof hammers.

          I jest, but design is subjective. I'd take 'basic and client-controlled' 99.999% of the time if it were an option.

          3 votes
          1. [10]
            mat
            Link Parent
            "I learned to fix someone else's bad design so you should too" is such a terrible approach. It's particularly prevalent in a certain segment of the FOSS community and it's been so harmful in the...

            "I learned to fix someone else's bad design so you should too" is such a terrible approach. It's particularly prevalent in a certain segment of the FOSS community and it's been so harmful in the wider uptake of such things. Sure, I could fix it. I spent a decade writing CSS professionally. But why should I have to? Also most people couldn't fix it. How many hours of effort is an acceptable amount to ask of people just to read your webpage? Because when I have something to say I want people to be able to read it without having to do any homework first..

            Design is... only partially subjective. We know from countless hours of testing in UI labs that narrow columns of text are more readable than wide ones. That's not subjective, it's just a fact about how humans read on a screen. Whether a heading looks better at +1em or +1.5em or #333 vs #444 is subjective. But it's objectively true that making it +100em or #eee on white makes a document harder to read.

            Client controlled is only acceptable when you can be sure that a huge majority of clients can exercise that control effectively. To take a couple of extreme examples, we let people control the volume of their audio devices because almost everyone can work a volume control. We don't let people control the valve timing on their car because the vast majority of people don't have the skills to do that. Same with web layout. Good designers format web pages in a readable way because only a tiny minority of people have the skills (or time, same same) to modify them. Doing otherwise isn't just bad design, it excludes a big segment of your audience for no reason. You can only read this website if you know css or how to activate reader mode! Ugh.

            Setting a sane column width on his text doesn't for a moment stop you from overriding it if you want to (might I introduce you to the CSS rule important! if you're not already aware of it), but it makes the site work for everyone who can't, or just doesn't want to, dick about with user-side CSS or browser options.

            It's not like this kind of thing is uncommon, but to write a bajillion words about how things don't work well and publish them on a website that works like complete crap is a bit of a joke.

            Also if a thumb-smash-proof hammer was makable it should absolutely be the standard. I'd buy one and I'm a freakin' hammering-stuff professional.

            12 votes
            1. [2]
              vord
              Link Parent
              Well, browsers used to have a quick little menu where you could choose your default color scheme and choose to override page CSS by default. It required zero technical literacy beyond 'click the...

              But why should I have to? Also most people couldn't fix it. How many hours of effort is an acceptable amount?

              Well, browsers used to have a quick little menu where you could choose your default color scheme and choose to override page CSS by default.

              It required zero technical literacy beyond 'click the color'.

              It's no secret I don't like the 'designer-driven web.' Sane defaults could be baked into browsers and then nobody would need to waste time writing gobs of css, since the client would have their preferred layout anyhow.

              3 votes
              1. mat
                Link Parent
                I'm sure you have met people who aren't techies. You must have some idea of how hard what you're talking about would be for them. Conceptually you have to understand a shedload of stuff before...

                I'm sure you have met people who aren't techies. You must have some idea of how hard what you're talking about would be for them. Conceptually you have to understand a shedload of stuff before you'd even be able to think that changing the type or colour of a web page is even possible, let alone which menus to dig through to find that option.

                I'm not saying those people are stupid or anything like that. They just have different expertise.

                Saying you don't like design is like saying you don't like things that exist. Everything has been designed. Every single human made thing that has ever existed has been designed by someone. You might not like some of those designs, but you definitely like some of them.

                Also if you think the default layout would be what any client wants, you've clearly never dealt with any clients ever. The hard part is usually trying to get them to dial things back enough that the site remains usable at all.

                5 votes
            2. [7]
              joelthelion
              Link Parent
              You don't need to write custom CSS or do anything complicated. Just click your browser's "reading mode" button.

              You don't need to write custom CSS or do anything complicated. Just click your browser's "reading mode" button.

              2 votes
              1. [6]
                mat
                Link Parent
                "Just click" isn't the case for most users. Sure, for the 3% of people who use Firefox (and I wouldn't take a bet than even half of them know about reader mode) it's pretty easy. Here's how to do...

                "Just click" isn't the case for most users. Sure, for the 3% of people who use Firefox (and I wouldn't take a bet than even half of them know about reader mode) it's pretty easy.

                Here's how to do it in Chrome:

                Click in the URL bar, input chrome://flags/, and press Enter.
                
                   Input Enable Reader Mode within the search box in the Experiments tab.
                   Select Enabled on the drop-down menu for Enable Reader Mode.
                   Press Relaunch to restart Google Chrome.
                    Open a webpage you want to view in reader mode.
                
                

                That assumes people even know it's an option to look for in the first place. Which I can near-guarantee most people don't. Setting flags is far too complicated for most people, especially just to read one page on one website? Not going to happen.

                The website is badly designed. That there's several ways to work around that doesn't change that. It still, in the author's own words, doesn't "work well"

                6 votes
                1. [5]
                  vord
                  Link Parent
                  And thats the problem. If it isn't spoonfed to them, people can't use a thing. Learn to use the features of whats provided. Click through menus and see what things do. Google them if you don't...

                  "Just click" isn't the case for most users.

                  And thats the problem. If it isn't spoonfed to them, people can't use a thing.

                  Learn to use the features of whats provided. Click through menus and see what things do. Google them if you don't understand.

                  Its an education problem. And the answer to "people are computer illiterate" isn't "make it so the computer illiterate can use computers." It's teaching proper computer literacy beyond 'tap the app'.

                  4 votes
                  1. [3]
                    cfabbro
                    (edited )
                    Link Parent
                    That cuts both ways, my friend. The owner of this site could also just learn to make a more legible, accessible site too, instead of relying on some elitist principle to justify still using...

                    That cuts both ways, my friend. The owner of this site could also just learn to make a more legible, accessible site too, instead of relying on some elitist principle to justify still using outdated, archaic web design standards.

                    10 votes
                    1. [2]
                      vord
                      Link Parent
                      This is true, I suppose. I do find it weird we expect every single website to implement all of these things instead of just empower the client to do what they need. I don't need line spacing or...

                      This is true, I suppose. I do find it weird we expect every single website to implement all of these things instead of just empower the client to do what they need.

                      I don't need line spacing or margins to read. I actively resent sites that force it. I'll resize my browser if needed. With client-side power, nobody will need to write CSS ao people can have their preferred design.

                      3 votes
                      1. cfabbro
                        (edited )
                        Link Parent
                        And I find it weird to expect every single person who visits a site to take time to make it readable. :P IMO, purely from a utilitarian perspective the onus should be on the content provider to do...

                        And I find it weird to expect every single person who visits a site to take time to make it readable. :P

                        IMO, purely from a utilitarian perspective the onus should be on the content provider to do that. The content provider taking a few minutes to implement some basic CSS is a lot more efficient use of time than forcing however many consumers of that content to spend time customizing the site rendering so they can actually read it. Even if they know how, and even if that only takes a few seconds for each consumer to do, the total time wasted by them all adds up quick.

                        p.s. And with so many good, fast, free, easy-to-use, web frameworks available these days, it makes no sense for a content provider not to use one for their site... especially considering the myriad of devices, with various display sizes, all capable of browsing the web nowadays, which makes having a responsive design even more important.

                        Pure HTML sites are dead for good reason, and should stay dead, IMO. Minimalism, sure. Lightweight, Java-less design, sure. But pure HTML? GTFO

                        7 votes
                  2. mat
                    Link Parent
                    Not everyone wants to, or has time to, nerd around on their computer digging around in menus and potentially breaking things. Some people just want to get the thing they want done, done, and do...

                    Not everyone wants to, or has time to, nerd around on their computer digging around in menus and potentially breaking things. Some people just want to get the thing they want done, done, and do something else with their time.

                    You're edging around saying the users are the problem, which is precisely why the design you don't like is really important. In user interface design there is a saying that there is no such thing as user error, only bad design. A well designed system doesn't need someone to spend ages learning how to make it work, because it works all by itself. Nobody should ever need to open a console and fuck about in a .conf file to make their computer work.It's great that they can, and that option should always be available - but tapping an app should be the only thing people need to learn.

                    Alright, we've all met people. Some of them are idiots. But that is not a reason to exclude them. Rather the opposite, it's really really important to make sure that everyone has access to computing and the huge resources that come with it. That goes extra for websites, which are information resources and shouldn't be gatekept based on the ability to fiddle about in a menu. Information should be as free as it can be, to as many people as possible. If a few lines of CSS (hell, I could fix that guy's site with one line) makes something more accessible to more people, I think it's very hard to make a case against doing that.

                    4 votes
        2. Adys
          Link Parent
          For what it’s worth, when I posted it, it was from my phone and I didn’t realised it looked this bad on desktop. On mobile it’s actually pretty readable. I think desktop browsers really could use...

          For what it’s worth, when I posted it, it was from my phone and I didn’t realised it looked this bad on desktop. On mobile it’s actually pretty readable.

          I think desktop browsers really could use better base styling but … yeah.

          3 votes
    2. [5]
      FishFingus
      Link Parent
      Thanks for the summary. This isn't the 1990s, that man should learn some extremely basic HTML and CSS and format his damn text properly.

      Thanks for the summary. This isn't the 1990s, that man should learn some extremely basic HTML and CSS and format his damn text properly.

      7 votes
      1. [4]
        DanBC
        Link Parent
        I dunno, I feel like he's a technical author writing for a technical audience. I haven't run it through a validator, but it's likely that his html is valid. By using the absolute minimum CSS he's...

        I dunno, I feel like he's a technical author writing for a technical audience. I haven't run it through a validator, but it's likely that his html is valid. By using the absolute minimum CSS he's giving people freedom to easily use user-side CSS to style the page however they like.

        At the moment accessible websites are a real mess. Some people need HUGE high contrast text. Other people need fairly specific contrast. Some people like dark text on light background, others hate that. Someone might be reading it on a mobile phone, or on an enormous monitor, or in a window at the side of a high DPI screen. For a general use website people have to just guess at what works for most people and that's okay but it means plenty of people have to kludge a work-around.

        6 votes
        1. mat
          Link Parent
          Sure, accessibility is a nightmare - but that's no reason not to try. It's a reasonable assumption that a majority of people don't have significant access issues so a default of "readable for most...

          Sure, accessibility is a nightmare - but that's no reason not to try. It's a reasonable assumption that a majority of people don't have significant access issues so a default of "readable for most people" is good. That's much better than leaving things basically unstyled and expecting people to run their own css. People who need special features likely already have user-side CSS set up. Most people don't.

          I could easily write my own css to set this guy's text inside a sane width column - but a lot of people couldn't and why should an average reader have to? There's no advantage gained by leaving his entire site near-unreadable, some simple styling would make a huge difference to usability and would be no harder to use custom styles on than it is now.

          This isn't a technical document, and even if it was, a good technical author understands how to communicate things succinctly and clearly through both well-written prose and human-friendly layout, neither of which is the case here.

          9 votes
        2. inwardpath
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Being aggressively against web bloat is also... his thing. I don't have numbers but I know that post has been quite popular / made the rounds on other sites. So I can see yours and his arguments...

          Being aggressively against web bloat is also... his thing. I don't have numbers but I know that post has been quite popular / made the rounds on other sites.

          So I can see yours and his arguments for avoiding bloat (and at the extremes, avoiding it so much as to rely on users to style the page).

          I fall somewhere in the middle (I prefer sites with little/zero JS, that are written in relatively compact HTML/CSS, etc). I am aggressively a fan of efficiency- however not 100% at the cost of UI/UX. With an extremely small amount of basic CSS, DanLuu's site could increase its readability ten-fold, especially for desktop users. That kind of improvement at a near-zero cost I think makes more sense than the extreme of no styling at all.

          That said, this article is exhaustively long. I found the appendix more interesting than the rest of the post. My eyes started to glaze over a few paragraphs in.

          8 votes
        3. mtset
          Link Parent
          Almost like websites shouldn't make presentation decisions, and should leave presentation up to clients as much as possible. Reader mode is a good example of this, but it doesn't go far enough.

          Almost like websites shouldn't make presentation decisions, and should leave presentation up to clients as much as possible. Reader mode is a good example of this, but it doesn't go far enough.

          6 votes
    3. 0x4A
      Link Parent
      Don't assume that a graphical browser is the intended primary audience.

      Don't assume that a graphical browser is the intended primary audience.

      3 votes
  2. Bullmaestro
    (edited )
    Link
    Firstly, to avoid going too off-topic, this is the first time I have seen somebody genuinely make a blog that is just a plain text page. It feels like a relic of the early internet yet it's being...

    Firstly, to avoid going too off-topic, this is the first time I have seen somebody genuinely make a blog that is just a plain text page. It feels like a relic of the early internet yet it's being updated. In fact I'm sure this guy has taken his inspiration from the Motherfucking Website. Unfortunately, he's also foregone a few basic CSS lines which would have made his grand wall of text far more readable.

    That being said, I completely agree with Luu's take here.

    His post reminds me of a thought I had pop into my head, which is how a lot of websites and apps have degraded in speed, efficiency and/or quality over the years, definitely opening up the market to competition. A few examples I can think of:

    • Any local or national newspaper that is owned by Reach Plc has atrocious websites. No seriously, try viewing the Bath Chronicle or Daily Mirror website on a mobile phone and watch the huge amount of ads, surveys and tracking cookies give your phone technological cancer. The layout of the site and articles also feel like the webmaster read through a basic SEO book, which is why articles are littered with internal links instead of links to actual sources.
    • Google is basically unusable without uBlock Origin or a sufficiently reliable ad-blocker, because the first few search results will be littered with ads that Google (in their infinite wisdom) have failed to properly vet. This is especially bad for pushing unreliable search results and misinformation, and is a big reason why other search engines like Duckduckgo, Lycos and Bing are looking like more attractive alternatives by the day.
    • Photobucket was more of a historical example. It was a really bad image hosting website which was frequently slow and would bandwidth-cap images users hosted on it. Unsurprising that Imgur quickly overtook it.
    • Facebook has degraded from years of bad redesigns, a sluggish Messenger app, years of pushing disinformation and tonnes of concerns about Mark Zuckerberg's disregard of user privacy - to the point where I think that if a platform like Orkut, Google+ or Diaspora came onto the market today, they'd take serious market share.
    • On the subject of Meta... Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms are basically worse versions of VRChat which Zuckerberg has actually had to beg his own workers to use.
    • Zoom declined heavily once Slack and Microsoft Teams improved support for video calling. Google likewise lost market share around the pandemic with Hangouts because it was terrible and unreliable.
    • YouTube's content has degraded heavily in quality due to Google's bad user support, changes to the algorithm to promote longer (and lower-effort) videos, demonetization and every video containing a fucking ad for Raid Shadow Legends, Mobile Legends or some other mobile game tripe with a huge marketing budget. It is no surprise therefore that TikTok has overtaken them as the largest video streaming platform.
    • Twitter is full of clickbait blog spam which is difficult to avoid because of how much promoted posts are pushed, though the reason it's at risk of dying is from Elon Musk's leveraged buyout and attempts to push everybody out.
    • Tumblr's (partially rescinded) porn ban pushed many to Twitter, bringing many of the toxic fandoms along with it.
    • Curse is far less popular, at least for World of Warcraft addons. This is because they've blocked third-party addon downloaders like WowUp and WowMatrix from accessing their API, forcing people to use Overwolf instead. Many addon uploaders use Wago.io (mainly known for WeakAuras.)
    • Reddit risks going down that path. A lot of unpopular things like GIF reactions, a bad (and thankfully optional) site redesign, emoji awards, promoted posts being everywhere, a huge focus on promoting e-girls and their OnlyFans channels, power-hungry community moderators, unappealable bans, etc have pushed many away. The only reason Reddit hasn't fallen to a competitor yet is because every prominent Reddit alternative is either invite-only or has gone all-in on free speech and turned into Stormfront clones, thereby chasing away users and stakeholders.

    This isn't just an issue that impacts tech companies; we see this across many different industries. For example, any company that wants to mail items to customers has to either implement shipping themselves or deal with the fallout of having unreliable shipping. As a user, whether or not packages get shipped to you depends a lot on where you live and what kind of building you live in.

    Very true. I live in the UK where we have very inconsistent couriers. Evri, Yodel and (more recently) Parcelforce and Royal Mail are particularly notorious for bad customer service. Cannot vouch for Uber Eats or Deliveroo but both companies are notorious for abusing regulatory loopholes to effectively class workers as sole trader contractors, under-pay them and give them fewer employment rights.

    To my knowledge I can only think of two non-courier companies that are large, powerful and logistically sound enough to handle their own deliveries here, and those are Amazon and Dominos.

    4 votes
  3. [2]
    Akir
    Link
    I think this is an interesting way to think about things because it makes 'products' universal. IMHO the main reason why product quality is so low is simply because when people are evaluating the...

    I think this is an interesting way to think about things because it makes 'products' universal.

    IMHO the main reason why product quality is so low is simply because when people are evaluating the products they have a requirement or expense (and at this large a scope the two terms are essentially the same) that they are either unable or unwilling to address.

    Most of the products the author brings up are extremely complex, and they will have so many small requirements that it's easy to miss some of them. Or often that requirement is misplaced - for instance, if you're trying to involve someone who is used to a specific interface, you might require that your product has that same interface, when in reality the requirement should be that the interface that is simple enough for that specific person so that they can be trained to use it.

    4 votes
    1. vord
      Link Parent
      Author touches on a big one: Marketing trumps knowledge. Plastic washbasins in dishwashers should not exist. But it's cheap to load up a garbage dishwasher with trinkets that don't wash dishes...

      Author touches on a big one: Marketing trumps knowledge.

      Plastic washbasins in dishwashers should not exist. But it's cheap to load up a garbage dishwasher with trinkets that don't wash dishes better and then charge as much as a high quality product. Advertising how many features you have (and not that your bottom-tier build means it fails in 4-6 years).

      1 vote
  4. petrichor
    Link
    document.head.innerHTML += '<style>body { max-width: 50em; margin: 1em auto; }</style>';

    document.head.innerHTML += '<style>body { max-width: 50em; margin: 1em auto; }</style>';

    2 votes