Why are my web pages so simple?

by Miriam English, 2008-12-12

I am an artist who has been using html since before there were any GUI editors or converters. This makes some people wonder, when they see my pages, why I make such simple, uncomplicated pages. Why don't I use the slick, glamorous, design techniques that are so common nowadays?

The answer is that I want my pages to do what html was developed to be able to do: show itself nicely on any display device.

Most web pages try to imitate magazine pages. But the web is not paper -- they are entirely different technologies. The most common mistake this leads people to, is to design for a particular screen size. I've had people tell me (as if they knew) that the "standard" screen size now is 1024x768 and it is not worth programming for lower resolutions. This is unbelievably dumb. The main two groups of computer users today are young people and old folk. Youths tend to use as high a resolution display as they can force on the system (1024x768 doesn't suit them). Older people often have failing eyesight which requires lower resolutions like 800x600, or even 640x480. And there is an entirely different class of user as well: those who access the web using the very low resolution screens of mobile phones or handheld computers. People who make webpages targetted at any one of these groups will miss all the others. My web pages work on any screen resolution.

Another reason my pages look simple is that I keep image use to a bare minimum. This is a courtesy to people who are using dial-up access, or even worse, pay-per-minute mobile phones. For them every minute wasted waiting for unnecessary images is an exasperating inconvenience. Most people still don't have broadband internet. Designing for broadband excludes the bulk of your audience.

I don't use javascript in my pages because many people leave it turned off, and the scripts on such pages easily grow far beyond what is reasonable. I have had jobs where I was required to add all kinds of javascript-mediated functionality to pages, but I couldn't help noticing that those pages tended to take a long time to load and slowed the computer down. Years back it also sometimes crashed web browsers. For all those reasons I don't use Java either. It is a terrible language that needlessly complicates things and has a very bad habit of crashing unpredictably. Also it is a proprietary language. Flash is proprietary too and crashes some browsers. Worst of all, flash's secret plugin gets upgraded in ways that make old flash plugins useless, meaning a new plugin needs to be downloaded regularly... mostly so you can play stupid advertisements.

People have a terrible habit of overusing tables and frames. They are mostly not needed. Tables won't display their contents till the entire table is loaded, so for complex pages users are left looking at a blank screen for ages, waiting for all that data. Frames are commonly used for navigation, but if they are being viewed on a mobile phone or a handheld or one of the older browsers that doesn't show frames then they just make your pages difficult or impossible to use.

Many people have set up their web browser to display the way they like, with their favored fonts at a font size and color that suits them. Web page designers that force particular fonts, colors, and sizes on their audience are missing the point. People often use large fonts because their eyesight is poor, or use high contrast colors for the same reason. While on the topic of fonts, it has become fashionable to overuse sans serif fonts these days, despite the fact that it has been shown that serifs make text easier to read. This can be crucial for some people and can be the difference between making your website enjoyable or a major headache.

When making a web page you really should free yourself from the mindless dictates of fashion and ask yourself what you want to give the user in your pages. In most cases you'll find simple, easy to use, fast-loading pages flow naturally from that.