inessential by Brent Simmons

Don’t make me touch that thing!

I took that What D&D Character Are You? test that’s been going around. I’ve never been so delighted with the results of an online quiz.

I Am A: Chaotic Neutral Human Fighter Ranger

Chaotic Neutral characters are unstable, and frequently insane. They believe in disorder first and foremost, and will thus strive for that disorder in everything they do. This means that they will do whatever seems 'fun' or 'novel' at any given time.

Humans are the 'average' race. They have the shortest life spans, and because of this, they tend to avoid the racial prejudices that other races are known for. They are also very curious and tend to live 'for the moment'.

Primary Class:
Fighters are the warriors. They use weapons to accomplish their goals. This isn't to say that they aren't intelligent, but that they do, in fact, believe that violence is frequently the answer.

Secondary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.


Don’t make me touch that thing!

Were I to found a famous school of Web design—yeah, right, as if that would ever happen—it would be called Minimalist.

In interviews I would complain about the name, I’d say, “No, really it’s about focus and context, blah blah blah.” But secretly I’d be quite happy with the Minimalist name.

In this fantasy world of mine, is there a reason for this minimalism other than aesthetic?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Many sites take a kitchen-sink approach. They have polls, news boxes, top-ten lists, stock quotes, and on and on. The thing is, when I go to such a site I’m going for whatever the main point of the site is.

For weblogs that would be the news.

My revelation is that sites do not exist alone, every site is part of the World Wide Web, part of a much larger context.

But when designing a site, many designers act as if it’s the only Web site in the world, or at least the first place people will turn to for news.

I’m under no illusions that any of my sites are the primary news sources for anybody. Or that people see them as somehow separate from the mass of weblogs.

I’m not sure I’m getting my point across, so I’ll re-state it: You don’t need a kitchen-sink approach, since your Web site is part of a huge family, it’s part of the entire Web. Allow the rest of the Web to do the things that you don’t do.

Here’s an example: Mac OS X Hints. It’s one of my favorite sites. Great content. I’ve even donated money to it. I point to it often from

Yet, before I go to the site, I ask myself if I have the energy to do all the filtering I need to do in order to read it. There’s so much stuff I don’t care about, so many boxes and things. It’s definitely a kitchen-sink site.

There’s a cost: it takes mental effort on the part of the user to filter out all the extraneous stuff. Rather than make your site sticky, all this extra stuff can drive down traffic.

And there’s a cost to the person or people who run the site, too. All this extra stuff has to be built in the first place and then maintained. The cost of maintenance is always higher than you think it will be. (In this area Murphy shines brightest.)

So my advice would be: your site is not the only Web site. Concentrate on what’s unique about it and what it does best. Trust that the Web will take up the slack. Whatever you’re not doing, someone else is doing.

That’s a good thing.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—you don’t have to listen to me. I’m not going to flame anyone for having a kitchen-sink site. These are just my thoughts. I expect widespread disagreement.

Theory: RSS is popular in part because it routes around the kitchen-sink designs of many news sites.

Maybe I’m just a kind of modern day Amish person. When Sheila and I went to buy a washing machine and clothes dryer, we deliberately bought models with less features, since they were simpler.

We could easily have bought fancier machines with more knobs and buttons and settings, but we didn’t. It wasn’t about the money, it was about user interface.

Similarly we have no plans to buy a Tivo. It may be wonderful, but it’s yet another box with another user interface to learn. Ugh. Not worth it.

The problem in 2002 and in the foreseeable future is the overwhelming crush of user interfaces, both on the Web and off.

One day my Dad was visiting Seattle. He rented a car with one of those computerized navigation systems.

I was in the passenger seat, and he encouraged me to try it out, to play with it.

I said, “Don’t make me touch that thing!”

That’s a reaction I have frequently on the Web. Busy sites with too much stuff on them make me say, “Don’t make me touch that thing!"

And then I hit the back button.