W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > July 2005

Re: The Core Beliefs of Usability and Their CSS Application

From: Orion Adrian <orion.adrian@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005 17:23:18 -0400
Message-ID: <abd6c80105070114235fe5459b@mail.gmail.com>
To: www-style@w3.org

On 7/1/05, Kris@meridian-ds.com <Kris@meridian-ds.com> wrote:
> >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.

I wasn't referring to WYSIWYG actually, but WYSIWYG would certainly be
nice. There is nothing inherent wrong with WYSIWYG, but with the
artificial limitations placed on it.

WYSIWYG doesn't have to apply to explicit sizes. It could work for
proportions and in some applications it already does. Take for example
an application that allowed you to style a canvas into areas. In one
direction, character-flow (the direction the character is next is
displayed from the stream) you could only provide percentages of the
viewport. So one area would be 25% and the next would be 40%. It would
be easy to see when it adds up to 100%. If it doesn't add to 100%
issue a warning.

In the other direction, line-flow (the direction the next line will be
placed), you specify lengths in lines (with auto being an option to
display as many lines as it takes).

You wanted examples, here are some.

The working group shot itself in the foot by giving authors the tools
to abuse the language. Of course they're going to use WYSIWYG tools to
produce pixel perfect layouts... That's what's easiest.

If you want a person to go a particular way, make that way the most
desirable for them to go. Users to me work a lot like water. They
often follow the path of least resistance whenever it comes to things
unfamiliar to them. Then once that path is established, they don't
change. As they use a particular path, they reinforce the tunnel
provided. So if you're going to provide an alternative to an
entrenched method, you're going to be fighting uphill.
> >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.

Isn't it good that usability gives us the tools to quantify. User
studies, tests and statistical analysis all provide the means.

> >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.

My statement there made no statement as to whether or not CSS was easy
to write for. That is the point of the post, but the point right there
was to say that designer's should adjust for users not the other way

> >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.

Because of what I do, I work a lot with the IT techs in my company.
They offer valuable insight into what is being asked repeatedly. As to
the God-given right argument, it is the hope of every company that
they see the greatest penetration of their product. While they know
not everyone will want it, they would probably be pretty happy if
everyone bought it. Don't confuse this with the tactic of making
something rare in order to make it more desirable. This is a marketing
tactic. They still want as many people to buy their product as

Designers aren't end users which is why if you want to be successful
you get someone who knows users. Usability specialists are those
people. Also having an end user on your design team can help if you
know how to get accurate information out of them. User-created design
isn't usually very good.

I'm just glad most company's don't take this same attitude. Could you
imagine car companies that decided you needed to have a certain talent
for driving in order to drive. Most would call this elitist and I
would say they were right.

And head over to the HTML camp; it was designed so that it could be
used by everybody. They can chew you out.

> >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
> >redesigned.
> >
> >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.

I'm thinking you misunderstood something. I was saying that people who
post here have been using the CSS box model so much, that when they
think of layout, their own internal model is heavily influenced by the
CSS model.

> >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 have before in other posts. I usually post some idea about every 2-3
months. Above is a smattering. But beyond that it's not usually the
job of a usability person to design, it's there just to comment on the
design and to provide guidelines. If the design doesn't meet the
guidelines it should have a good reason why it doesn't.

> >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.

I do by the way, but I work it from all angles. And how does blaming
Microsoft help you? I'll leave it at that.

> 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
> could)

I don't know how many times I can specify how I would change it. If
you're looking for a written proposal, that I haven't done, but I have
submitted ideas consistently.

As for the stand that I'm arguing for what I want, I'm not. I'm
arguing for what I feel users want based on user studies and
observation of users. My use case is completely different. I'll see
about putting together a proposal, but don't wait for it to start
discussing alternatives.

Orion Adrian
> Kris
Received on Friday, 1 July 2005 21:29:47 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Monday, 2 May 2016 14:27:19 UTC