The user rules


Usability and accessibilty on the web becomes synonymous with free choice and professionalizing of the user. Thus, she is more and less self responsible for being able to recieve the information of the websites.

The computer is putting still greater demands to the user, but despite of that it is easier to use today than ever. There is a constant flow of new applications and new version with numerous possibilities, and you’ll easily feel like a freak, for instance if you use Word as a mere texttool. Usability is a must, but behind the nice interface the computer and the application is totally incomprehensible.
This is a wellknown problem from other computerised devices. The car for instance. I resently stood at a parkinglot and needed a spanner to repair my bike. None of the drivers I asked had any toolset with them, but they had a service account at the local garage. Tools are for the nerds. We may be able to pull the car apart, but it take specialist to put them together again and even to make them work.
A thousand computer years ago you could choose between a DOS based IBM compatible computer and the userfriendly Macintosh. Real computer men chose DOS, of course, and later on Windows, because they had this superior control right down to the root. Nowadays the user is no nerd, and it’s now longer sufficient to know how to manage the config.sys file. Lots of various files are spreaded all over the harddrive and keeps the computer running. Plug and play better work, otherwise there will be problems.
You may still just use the computer for mere text editing, though – just as you may use the phone solely for calling friend and family. But that doesn’t count for the internet. Technologies and standards evolved explosively and offers new ways to communicate and to get information as well as entertainment. This, on the other hand, demands that the user keeps updating the browser and plug-ins, because the old applications don’t support the new standards. Today, we see lots of websites, that won’t show up in older browsers or without various plug-ins such as Shockwave-Flash-Player and PDF-Reader. This is no problem though for the new users, because these are installed as default. But within a year they have to deal with updates, new plug-ins and other demands from the websites.
The next waves show up every time a new browser(version) hits the market. And the newest today is Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 – for Macintosh that is, because the Windows version has been her for a while, but at least one facility is not available for Windows.
It may seem inferior, but it is the possibility to zoom the text that strikes me. When using Cascading Style Sheets the designer have had the power (within some limitations, though) to decide how the text should appear on the web page. Except for turning off page specified stylesheets in the preferences the user could do nothing to change that. PresumablY the design was considered to be the best combination of the elements of the page, of how the combination of text and graphic added value to the communication – all should be based on the knowledge to when a text is readable and intentionally give the website A recognizable visual identity.
Adobe’s website (in 2000) is designed with cascading style sheets to control the appearance, but the pages are being »co designed« depending of which fontsize the user choses to be legible. It ends up with a bad relationship between the elements, e.g. the heading »the orphanage« and the text »Ex-ILM wizards ...«. The user must deal with this, but the designer has to wake up, too.
Until now, if a webpage was bad designed – and this is not about if it IS beautiful or not, but if I could read the text – I might have left the page in anger. Now, if I really want to know what happens, I can enlarge the text up to 300%. And that’s terrific, now I can read the stuff. But also, I actually co-design the webpage – I have to consider the textsize and the overall look of the page. This isn’t just fun, because the settings holds for the next page I visit.
Secondly, the browser view may be set to various screen resolutions from 72 to 96 dpi. If the Mac browser is set to 96 dpi, fontsizes in points will look the same on Macintosh and Windows. Earlier the designer have had to set fontsizes in pixels to obtain this, because the Mac screen was 72 dpi. But now 96 dpi resolution causes enlarged fonts when using pixelssizes, and it influences the relation between the elements of the page.
This is all part of the w3c’s recommendation to the browsers, so this this is the new world. And it’s great, because now I have the ability to actually read the page, but I have also become a codesigner and – as such – have take decisions about fontsize and the overall look of the webpage. It is also difficult because the settings holds for the next pages. These might have been welldesigned with proper fontsettings but now they fall apart. If I’m not aware of my responsability, these pages leave? will seem bad at first sight (and that is very important for the visitor’s impression).
As a user I have to take decisions that the designer took previously. I have become a professional user and it’s partly my responsability to benifit by the net.
But the greatest shock is probably to be for the designer who just thought he could control the elements and had them in a tight structure. And then find that it is exactly not like that. On the contrary, he have to decide where and how the design should be elastic, so it can stand to whatever setting the user decide.
Torben Wilhelmsen
Details of various importance on graphics, web and communication

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