Uglifying a blog, or increasing usability?

August 20, 2006

Topics: Blogging, Usability.

Christian Montoya recently posted his Top 10 Ways to Uglify Your Blog. I take issue with most of his points – and so I’m setting out to refute his opinions. It’s clear to me that Christian is writing primarily from the perspective of a designer, so I’m going to make a point to address the issues from a usability and marketing perspective. I’m not disagreeing with every point; let me make that clear – but I will address all 10 points, regardless.

  • 10. Orange XML/RSS Buttons

    Christian protests the fact that these buttons don’t match any layouts. Regardless of the overarching simplification in this reasoning, there are many reasons to keep to a basic orange RSS button. First is the fact that this is, for better or for worse, the accepted standard for this type of button. From a usability standpoint, this equates to delivering the user what they expect – you don’t want to force them to search for anything on your site – and especially not for an RSS feed which might keep them coming back! From a marketing perspective, there’s a distinct advantage to making this feature stand out. Keep it visible, and people will be interested.

  • 9. Neutral Submit Buttons

    I won’t claim that neutral submit buttons are necessarily beautiful – but they are intuitive. Unlike most graphical buttons, they provide changing states on :hover, :active, and action. It is possible to create a button which will provide all these states without using the default settings – but most designers don’t go to this kind of effort. I’d advocate CSS modification or even plain, standard buttons. Again, it’s giving people what they expect.

    In this case, I don’t protest the issue of creating custom buttons. However, the method and practice must be considered very carefully in order to keep the level of usability which exists by default.

  • 8. Long Blogrolls

    One blog I read regularly has a very long blogroll. Christian suggests that this many links is a usability problem and continues to suggest displaying only groups of 10 links at a time in your blogroll. Well, I disagree. In my opinion, supplying a small subset of your blogroll links on each visit is a serious usability problem. How am I going to find that one link I remember seeing on Bill’s blog if I have to refresh his page a dozen times to find it? With AJAX or iframes this could be avoided – but what a pointless use of the technology.

    To me, a long blogroll is just fine. It’s not about providing a link to these sites, giving them added value, or advertising for your friends. It’s about giving an indication to your readers about what else you are interested in – they can browse them if they wish, or leave them.

  • 7. Tag Clouds

    All right. I don’t like Tag Clouds either. I’m not certain I agree that they’re ugly, nor do I believe that they’re useless – they do provide an interesting visual insight into the topics a blog tends to cover. But then, so do categories lists. My problem with tag clouds is that they provide no useful information for non-visual browsers. They usually provide no link separators and no indications of importance (the main point of their existence) to a non-visual user.

  • 6. Social Bookmarking Buttons

    Is he right? I don’t know. Personally, I don’t use them at all. On my sites, I generally use the Socializer, which greatly reduces the clutter – as well as not requiring me to monitor whether my links are current.

  • 5. XHTML/CSS Buttons

    Do any of my readers care about the doctype my site uses? In fact, yes. It may not be important in every industry, but if you promote yourself as a standards-based, accessible web developer, it’s actually pretty important. Now, whether I’d use those buttons is a different story – the default W3C buttons are actually pretty ugly. Using plain text indicators or small buttons is much preferable!

  • 4. 80×15 Buttons

    Wow, now that’s a sweeping generalization. I tend to think of this type of button as a badge. These are indications of support you give to particular institutions or memberships you hold in them. Perhaps they don’t "match your design", but they may well match your personality. Blogs are about personality. Christian says nobody cares about your support for Wikipedia or Greenpeace. I simply don’t agree – some of your readers care about your opinions are your viewpoint. Some of them care who you support and who you don’t. That may be one of the reasons that some of them read your blog at all.

  • 3. Feedreader Buttons

    Okay, I’ll agree here. I think that having a list of Feedreader buttons is a major waste of space. Give me easy access to your RSS feed (or your Feedburner subscription, if that’s what spins your beanie) and I’ll take care of it myself. Now, I may be biased, since the feed reader I use is never on the list.

  • 2. Ads, ads, ads

    I’m not entirely clear that Christian is actually condemning advertising on blogs, actually. It sounds more to me like he’s criticing the use of ugly advertising. Well, so be it. It depends on the circumstances, to me – good testing will determine whether an ad, beautiful or not, will create income for you. But, if your blog isn’t really about creating income – then certainly, skip the ugly ads.

  • 1. Your Picture

    Well, that’s just not very nice. I disagree. Putting your personality to your blog can be greatly aided with your picture. Later comments on the blog imply that what Christian was actually referring to was using your picture as part of the core design – reproduced throughout every page. That, I agree, is probably overkill.

Now, I’m sure I’ll receive criticism on this post because this site is not the most beautiful creation in the world. Before that starts, I just want to point out that beauty is not my first priority in creating a site – usability and accessibility come first. I’ve written this post with no intention of demeaning Christian’s perspectives – the design purist has a very different perspective than I do, sometimes. However, to me, the most important issue from a blog is personality – it’s all in the writing. The design is purely secondary, and these "top 10" elements are, for the most part, ways of personalizing your blog.

Once again, thanks to Kim for bringing this to the forefront of my thoughts!

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