inessential by Brent Simmons

More about wikis

Amplifying my earlier post about wikis...

Some people have said that wikis look the way they look because they’re just trying to get a job done and they don’t care about appearances.

In other words, the idea is that beauty and usability aren’t connected.

I disagree with that utterly and completely—beauty and usability are completely connected. In the case of web design, usability is the biggest part of beauty.

When I say usability I usually mean readability. The main thing people do with wikis is read them. (The main thing people do on the web is read.)

So what I’m saying is that almost all wikis don’t do the job of being easy to read.

Picking on Jakob

I’m going to pick on Jakob Nielsen now. Mostly because it’s ironic fun, but also because he can take it, and his site has many of the same usability and aesthetic problems that wikis have. (In my opinion, of course.)

Here’s a recent, fairly representative page: Usability For $200. (Warning: link opens in a new window, so you can see it and continue reading here.)

The text goes from the extreme left of the browser window to the extreme right. It is very difficult to read. (A more narrow column and white space would make it easier to read.)

I have to resize my browser window to about half its normal width before I can even attempt to read this page.

Any site that makes me resize my browser window, I leave.

The Summary box has no margins. Worse still, the background yellow of the box bleeds into the white background of the page, which makes reading the summary difficult. A border would help. See how it’s hard for your eyes to make out the edges of the Summary box? It makes that area of the page look smudged.

Then there’s all the bold phrases in the paragraph text. These little bold phrases add visual noise to the page. (Links don't have that same effect.)

You know what? That’s it. Not that many things.

And, as with Jakob Nielsen’s site, there isn’t that much that most wikis would need to do to become easy to read.

It’s as easy to create an easy-to-read site as it is to create a hard-to-read site.