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Online best practices are always in a state of flux. From the user’s perspective, this is a positive because the online experience is always improving. For the designer/developer, it can also be a challenge staying current. As I make sites, I regularly get requests from clients who are still thinking five years ago. I’ve compiled a little list of the most frequent (erroneous) requests. Feel free to add any I might have missed.

GIF

There’s no need for this file format anymore. It served us well, now its time to let it rest. PNG is the worthy successor. It supports alpha channels (multiple colors of transparency) which gif doesn’t, and the file sizes are 5-25% smaller than GIF.  Some people still think PNG isnt fully supported in all browsers. They would be wrong. The last major browser to have issues was IE6 (just the transparency part), and few developers care about IE6 anymore because the usage numbers are negligible. Everyday I get requests for GIFs and when I suggest that I give them a PNG instead, I still get puzzled responses.

The Fold

The whole concept of the fold originated from newspaper design. A newspaper as we all know arrives folded in half. When designing the front page of a newspaper, editorial designers are hyper-aware that the content above the fold gets a lot more exposure than whats below. So, similar thinking was quickly transferred to web design. The belief was that content first seen on the homepage before the user scrolls will get a lot more visits than what is below. It is possible that this is a vestige of 90s AOL design where pages didnt scroll. Milissa Tarquini makes that case and goes into more detail about this whole myth, 4 years ago. She also points to compelling studies that show that (amazingly) people scroll. Besides the fact that users are now very familiar with surfing the web and expect more content to be below the fold, there has always been the basic issue of noone really knowing where the fold should be anyhow. Its easy to argue the correct width of a page, but the viewable vertical area of a browser window varies considerably.  So when clients insist that certain content be above the fold, its time to educate them and tell them the term is meaningless. That said, this critique should not be confused with the important thinking of content placement on a page. Placement is a significant part of establishing a visual hierarchy, and it does convey to clicks.

Hyperlink Colors and Underlines

These things no longer matter.
I need to confess here that I was one of the holdouts myself. “But Jakob Neilson says..!” I would exclaim “Textual links should be colored and underlined to achieve the best perceived affordance of clickability.. Users shouldn’t have to guess or scrub the page to find out where they can click.” Guess what Jake, noone listens to you anymore! Take a look at what nytimes.com used to look in 2005:

NYTimes in 2005

and now today’s nytimes.com. I circled clickable areas. Notice how not only is nothing underlined anymore, but clickable items are actually the SAME color as the body copy. That was seen as sinful 5yrs ago, now lots of news sites do it.

NYTimes today

Other examples of major sites ignoring hyperlink colors:

Salon

HuffingtonPost

User habits have changed. We find links based on convention, expectation and context. For example, we expect headlines on news related sites to be clickable, no matter what color they are.

What I do think is important is rollover states. Links should underline or at least change color. Most sites do this now, but sometimes inconsistently and that’s bad ui.

“Click here”

Tangentially related to the above, if something is clickable, it should be obvious. There is no reason to ever have to say, “click here.” I still regularly get copy where a hyperlink is identified with “click here.” This tendency goes back to the early days when content owners thought users needed hand holding for the most basic of tasks. “Click here” is not a call to action, it’s an affront to your user’s intelligence. It’s also bad SEO because it is non-descriptive and bad design because it’s repetitive. I get that request a lot on banner ads in particular. Banners should have a CTA but something like “Learn More About Equity Investing »” is much more effective.

Web Safe Colors

I hate to steal another’s writing, but W3C summed this issue up perfectly:

Some years ago, when computers supported max 256 different colors, a list of 216 “Web Safe Colors” was suggested as a Web standard, reserving 40 fixed system colors.

The 216 cross-browser color palette was created to ensure that all computers would display the colors correctly when running a 256 color palette.

This is not important today, since most computers can display millions of different colors.

If any of you remember the movie Pi, they postulated that the true name for God was 216 characters. Coincidence?

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