W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-html@w3.org > August 2002

Another angle to the HR argument

From: M Chamlee <developer@pobox.com>
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 21:18:33 -0400
Message-ID: <001d01c24d67$af2987e0$0200a8c0@wanderer>
To: <www-html@w3.org>

To add a different angle, this discussion about the HR tag seems really to
be a discussion about different content layout methods.

Information architects and usability researchers for the most part seem to
think the hr tag is a distracting and outdated graphic element that does a
poor job of utilizing the many graphic elements that other modern
navigational cues can provide.

If you look back to the original use of the horizontal rule, you can see
why.  It's whole invention and original function at the time of widespread
printing press technology represented a trade-off between legibility and the
cost/space dilemma.  Early printers wanted to cram as much on a page as
possible without completely losing the differentiation from one topic to
another.  Because space was so expensive, instead of applying the needed
spacing and more diverse character methods of bolding, or using even more
space with larger point headers to differentiate between different topics,
multiple texts were simply separated with a line.  Maybe the extra character
blocks were too expensive to buy, or maybe the space was simply too
valuable.   Whatever the reason, that's the origin of the technique.

What many web developers have come to realize is that a few thoughtful extra
lines of space and a well-formed identification schema between topics does
not require the purchase of expensive hand-crafted large-point wooden blocks
to accomplish, and in a paperless internet society, the content can be
spaced out or put on separate "pages" without incurring additional charges,
or the excess felling of trees.

The reason many developers do not include this line of logic in their
content organization process is generally for one of two reasons.

The first reason is that content management specialists at times do not have
the understanding of database management tools that can cut down on the time
spent managing and updating hundreds of separate pages.  For this reason,
their strategy tends to be to stick as much content on one page as possible
so that the technical maintenance aspects of their job become easier and
more manageable, with the expectation that the reader will take the time to
differentiate between the content.

The second reason is often that the layout designer simply does not realize
there are more intuitive separation devices to use which are easier on the
reader, and which provide more useful and relevant information.  The problem
with the horizontal rule is that it displays no information to the user
aside from a break in the cohesion of the layout.

To better explain, here are three examples of alternate methods of
expressing differentiated ideas.

1. By devising icons, bolding simple title statements, and/or adding
numerical values to separate information on a page, the reader is not only
able to tell the elements are separate entries, but the devices that have
been used to get this idea across are informative and useful, further
speeding the cognitive process of scanning and identifying the sought after
information by the reader.

2.  Using columns and white space is another method that can be used
separately or in conjunction with the first example to break up an otherwise
monotonous layout of seemingly unrelated content.  As many graphic designers
will tell you, the use of white space to bring attention to the beginning of
a text  area, and the "Z scan" pattern of the examiner's eyes across a
layout are both powerful tools that can be utilized to predict and design
how a reader will interpret the beginning and end of textual elements.

3.  Finally, there is an important point that is often missed when there are
too many dissimilar elements on a single page to neatly separate using
examples one and two, and that is the poor usability and lack of clear and
thoughtful navigational "chunking" that a non-progressive layout often
creates. (Chunking in this sense is a good thing, referring to the break up
of content into smaller, more palatable groupings.)

Non-progressive layouts lack the predictive flow-chart navigation of the
visitor's mental model that thoughtful analysis and decision making about
the purpose of the site development early on can create.  Once purpose is
defined, limitations on how and where the visitor may find select
information are set into the site's architectural layout.  They are
non-progressive because the user cannot progress using the attributes the
web is famous for: hyper linking.  All the information must be sorted
through on a single page basis.

This is both a disservice to the visitor, who cannot narrow their search by
following a set path of navigation to arrive at links that have a higher
probability of meeting their search criteria, and it is also a disservice to
the web site content manager, because this method provides a crutch to allow
the manager to continue with a web existence which does not utilize the
vastly more efficient methods of database management of separate, distinct
content objects which can be changed and edited from a singe location with a
cascading effect to the rest of the content on the site.

Kudos to anyone who read this through, and I hope my thoughts shed some
alternate light on the subject of horizontal rule inclusion in modern
website navigation.

Melody Chamlee

----- Original Message -----
From: "eximcon" <eximcon@mail.ru>
To: "David Majda" <david.majda@seznam.cz>; <www-html@w3.org>
Cc: <www-html@w3.org>
Sent: Monday, August 26, 2002 4:42 PM
Subject: DISCONTINUE : In support of the "line space" (nee <hr>)

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: David Majda <david.majda@seznam.cz>
> To: <www-html@w3.org>
> Cc: <www-html@w3.org>
> Sent: Monday, August 26, 2002 9:46 PM
> Subject: Re: In support of the "line space" (nee <hr>)
>  > On Wed, 21 Aug 2002 10:50:51 -0700 (PDT)
>  > Bill Daly <billdalynj@yahoo.com> wrote:
>  >
>  > | But is that a solution or a hack?
>  >
>  > Do I really need to answer this? It's a hack of course, but it's
>  > valid XHTML. I think a small hack like this is probably preferable to
>  > the <hr> element, which is a hack in itself.
>  >
> I don't want to do hackery with <div>'s. What I need is to write hr
> sometimes, and style it in my CSS so that it looks how I want. I don't
> care if it is structural or presentational, it simply serves it's purpose.
> You have a great opportunity to stop the progress of the web, because if
>    XHTML 2.0 goes out without <hr>, I simply won't use it. And if there
> will be more useful features "forgotten" in the spec, nobody will use it.
> Think practically, sometimes.
> Regards
> David Majda
> --
> E-mail: david.majda@seznam.cz
> WWW:    http://dmajda.jinak.cz/
Received on Monday, 26 August 2002 21:19:06 UTC

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