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Re: The Core Beliefs of Usability and Their CSS Application

From: <Kris@meridian-ds.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005 14:23:43 -0500
To: www-style@w3.org
Message-ID: <OF4377DEC8.683FF969-ON86257031.006A8AAE-86257031.006A8ADD@meridian-ds.com>

>I've been bringing this up quite a bit lately, and there seems to be
>some confusion so I'm going to quote one of the great web usability
>gurus, Jakob Nielson.
>In http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050627.html :
>At the same time, usability is also an ideology -- the belief in a
>certain specialized type of human rights:
>   * The right of people to be superior to technology. If there's a
>conflict between technology and people, then technology must change.
>   * The right of empowerment. Users should understand what's
>happening and be capable of controlling the outcome.
>   * The right to simplicity. Users should get their way with
>computers without excessive hassle.
>   * The right of people to have their time respected. Awkward user
>interfaces waste valuable time.
>I think Jakob Nielson speaks well here and these are the same basic
>tennants I keep myself.
>"Deep in another thread I made the comments that the user shouldn't be
>forced to learn a language. That, in my mind, is the ideal. And as an
>ideal I know it's probably not going to happen, but it's a goal on an
>infinite range of values (specifically one end of the spectrum)."

I'm going to have to disagree here.  I don't really care who said it, it
could be jeff zeldman (who I respect a LOT) for all I care, the WYSIWYG
mentality has done nothing but hinder the web.  I think it's great that
there are products out there for the beginning developer/html newb, but we
all know that there's not a product out there that will code automatically
as well as any one of us can code manually by hand.  CSS (as it stands
currently) may not have to suffer the same fate if a great deal of care is
taken by the 3rd party who produces a product two automatically write CSS.
With that said, let's be frank, CSS is, as I said in another thread, a
styling language.  The arguement being made (that you shouldn't have to
"learn" it) could be made about virtually any other "web" language in use
today.  (X)HTML isn't particularly more difficult or easy to understand
than CSS is.  In fact, XML, which is simultaneously more simple and more
complex than any of the languages we're discussing, confounds people almost
immediately, and you're allowed much more flexability in it than any other
language on the web today.  This flexability would allow a developer to
just start using it (with very few limitations) virtually immediately... if
the developer only understood that.  I think this argument is bunk.

>Quoting Donald A. Norman in his book "Emotional Design":
>"I pointed out that there are three different mental images of any
>object. First is the image in the head of the designer - call that the
>"designer's model." Then the image that the person using the device
>has of it and the way it works: call this the "user's model." In an
>ideal world, the designer's model and the user's model should be
>identical and, as a result, the user understands and user the item
>properly. Alas, designers don't talk to the final users; they only
>specify the product."

I'm going to tenatively agree with this.  However I'm not entirely sure I
agree with the nouns.  Suffice it to say that this statement is a value
statement and would be hard to quantify in either direction no matter what
you believe the end to be.

>I figured you'ld listen to them before me, an unknown. Yet another
>example of trust.

Again, trust is earned.

>Since the people using a product should always be many times again the
>number of people designing the product it is must easier to get the
>designers to change their mental model to fit that of the user than
>the other way around. This falls under Nielson's 4th rule - the right
>to have your time respected.

Again, you're fringing on value statements here.  CSS, for YOU, is clunky.
For me it's very streamlined.  <shrugs/>  I don't perceive it the same, so
agreeing with you is going to be difficult here.

>Programming and the ability to use a computer for many years has been
>a means of separating those who know and those who don't. It has
>become a societal strata much like owning expensive clothes or driving
>a fast car.

A social strata among the (excuse me) computer nerds of the world.  I
consider myself in that class, so this is not derogatory.  We (nerds) are
not the majority of the world.  We are not the end users... we are the
developers.  Programming is not a God-given right to all human beings of
the world.  Some people have a talent for it, others don't.  Even the best
machine generated code can still be optimized by humans who understand how
things SHOULD work.  Using the "clothes" or "car" example, not all people
have those things.  It will always be that way.

>Programming doesn't have to be hard for most programmers. There will
>always be a level at which it is hard. This is the level that deals
>directly with the physical world. This can't be manipulated or
>CSS doesn't have to be hard to learn or use for the average user. A
>lot of the people here have a mental model of layout that is very much
>intertwined with the CSS box model.

That is quite possibly the nerdiest example I've ever heard in my life.
Again, no disrespect intended, but comparing people's mind-set to the box
model is quite humorous.  Again I'll stress that the people on the other
side of the screen don't care how the web-site works as long as it works.
And on this side of the screen, CSS makes it work dandy for me.  How about
some specific examples of things you think should change.  Code examples
would be fantastic.

>But this isn't the model my observations have shown most people to
>have. Even if there are technologies that can give the exact same
>output, they may not match the user's mental model. Now we have the
>opportunity to match it and to do not do so harms users.

Sure sure, but you've still provided no examples.

>I don't care about the idealogy you hold in your hearts, but I do care
>if it causes harm to users. They are the end, the means do not matter.

If you really care about harm to the users, then why don't you direct your
dissatisfaction at Microsoft's unwillingness to support the standards.  It
wouldn't matter how great the standards was, we'd still be in the same
position today as we are.  I know that your definition of "User" is anyone
using CSS to develop a website.  I honestly can't fathom how you can be as
exposed to CSS as you claim to be and still uphold Microsoft as a "good
example".  To me they seem the opposite of a "good example", so...
obviously you and I have very different perceptions of things, which might
explain why we don't seem to communicate well on this topic.

Again, I'm more than happy to consider REAL ideas.  But this whole
arguement thus far has really just been a question of what you value.  Or
rather, the execution of that.  So, in that spirit, can we stop arguing
etherial things and get to a meatier topic?  What specifically would you
like to see changed.  And how, specifically, would YOU change it.  (if you

Received on Friday, 1 July 2005 19:24:13 GMT

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