Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rule #7 - Leave the reader in control

There are a lot of things that go into this, more than some of the really awful sins. One pet peeve of mine is the auto-refresh. Please, let me decide when I want to go to the next page.

A more subtle interpretation of this is to make your page usable as quickly as possible, even before it is completely loaded. Don't force your reader to wait for netlag.

• Use height=nn and width=nn attributes on all of your images. Most browsers will format the page immediately and load the image later, so at least the text of your page is usable.
• Break long pages into several pages, unless the page really focuses on a single issue. (Long pages are most likely to be appropriate on detail pages, and least likely to be appreciated on your home page.)
• Use the top of each page to give the reader enough information to decide whether they want to stay on that page.

There are other ways of taking control away from the user. Frames are bad about this, because they take up valuable screen space, and most framed sites don't give you a way to make the frames go away.

Keep your hands off the status line! Status-line crawlers are a popular toy, but they take away link information that the user may consider more important than your crawler. (Not to mention that crawlers, either in the status line or elsewhere, are nearly as evil and distracting as blinking text.) Some people also use JavaScript to put link descriptions in the status line when the mouse is over a link. If you have a link description that's that good, use it for the link text. Again, you're taking the URL away from the reader at exactly the moment that they're likely to be looking at the status line to see where a link is going to take them.

Background sound is another bad idea; most sounds are fairly large, and a reader should be able to choose whether they want to spend the time waiting for a large download. The same is true of large graphics; give readers a thumbnail to select, and let them know before they select that they're going to be downloading something huge.