User experience and houseflies

As I mentioned previously, user experience (UX) design is one of my specific computer interests, and as the project lead for Mozilla’s Firefox support website, I obviously care a lot about website UX in particular.

One thing that keeps annoying me is how many websites are designed to make use of some “modern” features of the web like Javascript to enhance the visitors experience while still failing utterly in the common sense department.

DI.se, a Swedish financial website, is a good illustration of this. As with many other news websites today, they have a small toolbar strip at the start of each article with buttons for things like increasing the text size (something which can be really useful since most web designs tend to think that small fonts are more pretty than big fonts, and the average physical screen size of new laptops is only getting smaller).

DI.se’s article toolbar. Looks can be deceiving.

Now, the thing that makes DI.se worth pointing out as an example of particularly poor UX design is their decision to make the toolbar about as hard to hit as a housefly.

When you hover the mouse pointer over a toolbar button, the whole toolbar suddenly changes from the button-only, horizontal layout to a vertical one with text labels. This makes all toolbar buttons change place, and your first attempt to click on a button is surely going to be a miss.

When designers make decisions like this, I wonder if they really took the time to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks, or if they just didn’t have time to think in the first place. There are of course many simple changes that could be applied to improve this. For example, they could have made the toolbar wider and show the text labels at all times. Or, they could have kept the horizontal, button-only layout and just show the label of the button being hovered over using the same CSS/Javascript technique they’re using today, without changing the location of the button.

Of course, I took the time to point this out to the DI.se webmaster over a year ago, but as with so many other popular websites, the webmaster didn’t respond, and, as is obvious by visiting their website today, didn’t think the problem was important enough to fix.

Maybe it isn’t a huge problem, but it is certainly annoying; especially since the website doesn’t even remember the text size you choose, so you have to redo the procedure every time you read an article!

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