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When bad design becomes standard

Creating websites is now easier: if you don’t know how to design a specific page design element, all you need to do is go to the twenty most visited websites on the Internet and see how they did this element.

If 90% or more percent of these sites have designed this element in the same way, then this design has become the de facto standard, and you must comply with this standard.
If 60-90% percent of these sites have created this element in the same way, then this design is very popular and you should submit to it, unless your alternative design increases the usability of the element by at least 50%.
If less than 60% of these sites have created this element in the same way, it means that the dominant standard has not yet been developed, and you are free to invent your own design. But even in this case, if there are options, each of which is used on at least 20% of large sites, you should limit your imagination and choose one of the feeds already familiar to users, unless your alternative design of the element does not increase usability by at least 25 % compared to the best available option.
Naturally, the percentages are derived from my own thoughts. Currently, there is still too little research being done in the theory of consistency to indicate exactly how many sites should adopt a particular design so that it becomes a generally accepted rule or standard. Likewise, we do not know exactly how much users suffer when the “two levels of waiting” interface is violated, although we are absolutely certain that this does not give them pleasure.

Therefore, I recommend to follow the accepted rules even in those cases when your design, taken separately, looks better than the generally accepted one. The bottom line is that websites do not live separately from each other: visitors who come to your site expect it to work as they are used to.

Organization of information and implementation of tasks: no standards
Of course, in fact, the craft of web design is extremely difficult because it is associated with the creation of information architecture and the order of execution of tasks. There are no standards for these items yet. Each site solves these problems in its own way, since each of the sites is associated with specific information and its specific tasks.

Some aspects of the information architecture have already begun to take the shape of generally accepted rules: most corporate sites will certainly have sections “Products / Products” and “About Company / About Company”. Moreover, the section “About the Company” usually contains information for investors and visitors looking for work, as well as general information about the history of the company and its management. Addresses of company offices and maps to them are also located in the section “About the Company”, but this is not considered to be an established rule, as, for example, many sites use a different information architecture and put this data in a special section “Contacts”. Since users often expect to find the company’s address in the “About us” section, websites that put this data in another section should cross-reference from the “About us” section to the “Contacts” section.

Examples of established design rules
The most important mistake on the Web was to make the hyperlinks blue. Other colors would be much better suited for this, and would increase the speed of reading the text with links by a few percent. Unfortunately, the most important text on the page is in color, which, as you know, improves readability.

If the Web was created from scratch now, I would recommend choosing a different color for the links, but not blue. But since we are creating websites when the Web has been around for a long time, I strongly recommend leaving the standard link colors alone:

Blue text on the Web means “click here”, so if you leave unvisited links blue, you don’t have any doubts that they can go further. Much more time is saved due to the fact that visitors quickly guess where they can go on from the page than is lost due to the fact that a few words on the page are decorated in color, slowing down the reading by several milliseconds.
More importantly, this is the difference between unvisited links (blue) and visited (purple). This distinction helps visitors to understand the structure of the website and not get lost in the journey through it. On sites where the colors of the links are changed, we often observe how visitors return to the same page over and over again only because they do not understand by the color of the link that they have already been on this page. This additional confusion, slower navigation through the site, reducing the likelihood that users will be able to find the right page – all this you get in return for simply changing the traditional colors of the links.

Bookmarks for sections
In the past two years, many sites began to use a horizontal row of buttons-bookmarks pointing to the main sections of their site, placing this row along the top of the page. In principle, this decision is bad and violates the bookmarks metaphor.

Bookmarks are designed to quickly switch between alternative views of the same information object. For example, the site may contain a description of the product, where a general description is displayed on one page, a detailed description on another page, enlarged photographs on a third page, and so on. This is where it would be appropriate to use bookmarks to switch between different types of viewing information. At the same time, the user is located in the same context and place of the site.

When visitors are located deep within a specific section of the site, the bookmarks lose their meaning, because they transfer the visitor to a completely different section of the site, without preserving any context. Such “jumps” are a standard navigation task, and you should use a regular list of links for them, and not make them in the form of bookmarks.

I am convinced that bookmarks would be best used to switch between different (but related to each other) views of the same information, but not to navigate through different sections of the site that are not related to each other. But unfortunately, Web users will very soon lose all those ideas about the bookmarks that they had before, if more and more sites abuse them.

I still believe that less than 50% of sites use the bookmark element (erroneously) as a means of navigating between different sections of the site. Therefore, I believe that it is best to adhere to the correct method of using bookmarks, and to switch between sections of the site to use other visual design elements. But it may happen that the correct approach will lose, and I will have to reconsider my recommendation in about a year. If more and more sites will use bookmarks not for the purpose for which they were intended.

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