In preparation for the lecture above, I reread The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul, the closest title I’ve found to my own The Luddite’s Guide to Technology.
During and after reading it, I found myself taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing that some things on my website really need to change.
What needs to change?
In Usability Experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus, Kurt Cloninger writes:
In the usability corner, wearing the blue and purple underlined trunks, weighing in at just under 25K per gig… J-a-a-a-a-a-kob Nie-e-e-e-e-lsen, usability guru extraordinaire, with over 16
usability patents and several “lists of 10″—do’s, don’t’s, thou shalt’s, and thou shalt not’s.
“Blue and purple underlined trunks” is a reference to blue and purple underlined links, which Nielsen stuck to. In more recent years he said said that links just need to be underlined in significantly different colors (preferably with visited links looking dull and used, with unvisited links looking fresh and new), as part of a consensus that includes Steve Krug and WordPress design guidelines. I child themed a WordPress theme when it had no native way to make visited and unvisited links look different. And, despite practice in every official WordPress theme I’ve spent time with, I retain the opinion that if you want links to be noticed outside of places like menus people expect everything to be links, you should do the basic courtesy of having underlined links with two separate colors for visited and unvisited links.
However, after reading href=”https://amzn.to/2MKcZEu”>The New Media Epidemic, I have set the main text on articles to normally be black and without underline, just like the surrounding text, unless the link is awfully important and perhaps the reason the page is there in the first place. Download links for software projects, for instance, are links. And there are other changes, including a font change from rounded Verdana (with text looking like this) to a standard print font. But the default policy has me doing almost everything to camouflage most links and not draw them to readers’ attention. The links are still there, and will be underlined if you hover over it. For that matter, most italicized book titles are links. However, I have undertaken a striking link hiding project.
The reason for this is simple. People understand text in a linear format, and by peppering my postings with an industry standard dose of links is kind of like stomping feet, blowing whistles and honking horns while my visitors would better read in quiet. Links impose a “cognitive tax” to make visitors stop and think if the page that is linked to is more important than the page you’re on.
(And if that costs me my $5 a month in affiliate link income, oh well!)
I also had “You might also like…” links that I have hidden for now. The basic reason is that even if I lose stickiness as a cost, most of my postings are a meal’s worth of food for thought, or more, and pages per visit is the wrong thing to maximize (and I know, in the case of one friend, my sticky links encouraged reading in a way that is not helpful).
I retain the beautiful background.
There are further implications. I have also tried to simplify the use of graphical widgets: “The design is complete, not when there is nothing more to add, but there is nothing more to take away.
I am also planning on similar modifications to my ebooks: a stylesheet made to let the book work more like print, and read more gracefully.
Here’s to lessons from 19th century print!
(P.S. I invite you to read The Luddite’s Guide to Technology!)