A note on pretty design

Just a quick thought:

I saw the previous post about Mellel.
Within a few seconds I knew I wasn’t going to look much furthur into it. This is not because I don’t need Mellel. This is not because I can’t afford it (although both of these are true).
It’s because the web-page is ugly.

I don’t normally consider myself a shallow person. But good design really works on me.
Makes me wonder whether it’s anything to do with my dyslexia.
As a dyslexic, I’ll only be interested in the words on the page, if the page is suitably interesting to look at. This is why many dyslexics find reading hard - because it’s hard to make a white thing, with a load of black things on it the most interesting thing around you (it’s also why for some people, dyslexia and ADD go together). The way around this is to engage with the content of the text so that it becomes interesting.

But on web-pages, it’s by making the words look pretty. This doesn’t mean using an over-the-top type-face, but by using design to draw my focus towards it.

There you go - my quick thought for the day.

Interesting. I am of the opposite persuasion in this regard. When web sites use a lot of heavily styled or “interesting” text, I buzz off almost immediately and forget about the product. Products on the other hand that have plentiful documentation that is presented in a plain, minimum, yet abundant amount will have me interested. In fact, the thing that stood out to me as being the major flaw with the Redler site wasn’t the amount of black-on-white text, but the fact that they were obscuring the quantity of text artificially by limiting the vertical height of the page with a frame. What’s with that?

But in short, a site that uses nearly default web appearance standards in long documents will always get my attention over sites that use clever catch phrases that they spent several hundred per hour on a designer to have styled in fashionably aesthetic ways. Such to me generally says the company (or at least the people in charge of representing the company) doesn’t know what to say about themselves or their product (or worse, would rather you remained in the dark until your monies are safely transferred) and has thus chosen to indulge in marketing.

That’s the message I get, anyway. It is very interesting to me to near another point of view–especially since I as a web designer have an interest in making sites accessible to as broad an audience as possible.

Aha - but for something to look pretty it doesn’t have to look flashy. Minimalist design is a asthestic choice that can (and in my opinion often does) lead to good looking design.

I mean, in terms of web-design 2 sites I would be willing to hold up as good examples are our very own LiteratureandLatte.com and Facebook.

Both are fairly minimal and functional, but in a way that looks pretty.

Lit+Lat has a really good variation of big text, small text, and images. This means that you can skim it for what you want to find out and then if you want a bit more depth you can read it. It doesn’t overwhelm you.
The layout of the text is very well chosen too - seperate ideas are very clearly seperated. Compare this to the Mellel website and it’s a little bit overwhelming text-wise, but do you get any screenshots?
I don’t think you do. Maybe they exist, but the fact that I would have to try and navigate through a very text-heavy site to find them puts me off already.

Another product that we’re all familiar with that uses minimalist ideas in it’s packaging is Apple and I think. I got a keyboard and a mouse with my Macbook Pro and the packaging is so pretty. It’s so clear and so balanced. You get exactly the information you need (the pictures show you what the product looks like, the logo on the side tells you it’s Apple, the small print is on the bottom [out of the way, but nevertheless easy to find]).
And very importantly it looks bloody pretty.

I think one thing to bare in mind when designing for dyslexics is that dyslexics think very visually; and often struggle with text. Whatever text is there it needs to exist in as non-frightening a way as possible (and by this I mean, the dyslexic needs to feel in control of how much text they choose to read, but without feeling like they need to exclude themselves by not reading everything). One reason I would happily return to certain websites is because I’ve taken a mental screenshot of what the site looks like; if it looks distinctive then I will be more likely to remember it; if it doesn’t, it will get lost.

Mellel was the first WP I bought for my Mac, although I don’t use it that much now. I suspect Mellel’s website is well matched to its potential customers.

It’s a pretty heavyweight operator. The conceptual model is pretty much like LaTeX (IE very structured) but using a GUI rather than markup, perfect for long technical or academic documents (which seems to be where its aiming itself). For anything less it’s a bit of a hammer to crack a nut, although it is very stable, and it has its own high quality rendering engine. Its other major downfall is that exporting to Word/rtf, which for most people is really important, just uses the OS X exporter, so it’s more limited than, say, Scrivener’s, which Keith has tweaked extensively.

My guess is that academic and technical writers will bear with the structure of the site, although you’d think the makers would want to expand their market a bit, or at least not discourage people outside their core market.

When I travel to a web site, I want easy access to all the information necessary to achieve my goal. If it is a software web site, I want to know what the software does, why it does it better than the competition, what it looks like and how to download it. If this can be achieved in an elegant way, all the better. But I’d much rather have the site functional than attractive, if the latter means I don’t get the information I want.

The Circus Ponies web site (circusponies.com/) is an example of a bad site, in my opinion. It has some flashy features, but it takes too much hunting around to get the information I want.

The Zengobi site for Curio (zengobi.com/products/curio/) is interesting. It shows you right up front what the product looks and feels like. But then it is a little sparse on additional details.

My favorite software web site is the one for LifeShaker (funkycloud.com/lifeshaker/index.php) which does a great job of showing you just what the application does and how it does it.

I’ll go Sebbi one further: The Mellel site isn’t just ugly, it’s Windows-y. Windows-95-y, even. Crammed and inelegant, with that bad-motel color scheme, it looks more like a site for an investment tool than a writing environment. And the Windows look does more than ping my (healthy) anti-MS prejudices. It makes the software look hard to use. Which goes to spinningdoc’s point, I guess: Mellel would, in fact, be a little much for one with simple sit-and-type needs like mine. If RedleX (can we discuss that name?) is trying to tell us that they make writing software for the heavy research/database crowd, then mission accomplished.

I wonder, though, if we haven’t evolved from that particular design technique. One of the most gratifying aspects of Apple’s resurgence over the last decade is that they’ve managed to convince people that good, simple design doesn’t necessarily equate to lightweight products. Longtime mac users remember when the OS was derided for making Apple’s machines look look “toy-like”. Serious work is ugly, the argument went. How can you possibly do serious work on something that looks so pretty?

The triumph of Jobs and Ives (and those that followed their lead) was to popularize the idea that complexity and seriousness lies with the user, not the machine. The iMac was pretty and dead simple to be sure (until the ubiquity of translucent plastic became a cliche, anyway) – but it was also robust. It was a smooth, simple jewel, into which we could put our hopes and dreams and hard work. That sounds hifalutin, but I think it’s true. Now that I think about it, those early “Hal” spots for Apple really resonate: the future used to be all flashing lights and recondite systems. With the introduction of the iMac, Apple went the way of the monolith, the simple box that contains the universe.

Wow, how did I get here. Yeah, um… anyway, not a fan of Mellel’s site.

Mellel IS hard to use, even when you know how the styles and autotitles work. The whole concept is ultimately flawed and the GUI is annoying to boot. :confused:

I knew it!

signin’s right, Mellel is actually quite hard to use, though worth it if you need advanced footnoting, streams of notes, endnotes, hierarchical styles etc. It does properly all those kind of things that Word claims to do but then doesn’t do properly, does in a counter intuitive way, an unpredictable way, or gives up on and crashes.

Mellel’s GUI looks like a slightly autistic puritan got hold of Nisus and redid it. It is very, very functional, and no fun at all. It doesn’t have the essence-of-Mac appeal of Pages, say, but neither it is OpenOffice.

I’m not knocking Mellel, it’s just hardcore. It can’t deal with the louche, devil may care improvisatory ‘what’s a manual’ attitude of us creative lot. Didn’t Nisus once market itself as ‘a wordprocessor for the rest of us’? Mellel is kind of ‘a wordprocessor for the other side of your brain, the side that makes Switzerland look like a particularly wild punk gig’.

EDIT: You wait, Michael Bywater will turn up in a minute and launch a jihad…

Jeeezzz!!! What a load ogloom and doom merchants, n misery `oles in this thread :open_mouth:

Heres me just having got m feckin head around Scrivs (well,the first arf of it), Tutorial and decided to buy Mellel, because some nob ed in this thread, said I could ger it cheap. Now yre all sayin its bobbins!! Im fed up now!!
And all I need now is dose of Bywaters smartarsed quippery!!! Did I say I was fed up? Worra bunch o wassack you lot are :open_mouth:

Actually, I think Mellel is rather good, even though it is rather overkill for my current purposes. It takes a bit of getting used to, but you get the impression you could throw anything at it and it wouldn’t blink. I would have loved it back in my (pre-Mac) technical authoring days.

I don’t much care what the web site looks like as long as I can find the information I need. It’s the software I pay for, not the web design.

Ahhh the Lovely Siren :smiling_imp:
A veritable oasis of positivity amid a desert of doom-n-gloom-mongery!! :imp:
Take care Sweet Siren
Le D

Ahh a momentary lapse Mr Bywater, a momentary lapse
My Felicitations Sir

Ha! Yesterday I was a promiscuous consumer of illicit substances, and today I am “sweet”! You are fickle, Monsieur le Directeur, very fickle! :wink:

I have lost count of the vast amounts I have spent as a result of this forum (on software, mostly, but also a new AlphaSmart Neo which arrived today) :slight_smile: But I think my ownership of Mellel pre-dates my discovery of Scrivener by a good year or more. Although I do recall that Mr Bywater’s honeyed words of enthusiasm elsewhere (not on this forum) had something to do with my Mellel purchase decision…

Well, when it comes to websites, pretty is as pretty does.

If I were looking for online romance, a stark black and white site, with few graphics, would make dating look like work. An overly flowery site is going to turn off people seeking a solenoid for their '73 Pinto.

Of course, finding what you’re looking for: that’s priceless.

For me, good design is about taking the time to get the details right, whether they are details of graphics and layout, site hierarchy, information architecture, or whatever. I tend to find that a software developer who ignores the details and has a badly designed website usually has ignored the details in their software, which is why when I come across a really horrific website for a piece of software I usually don’t bother even downloading it.

Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule (in both directions; bad software with a really nice website and great software with a terrible website), but for the most part it seems that software devs tend to approach the design of their site in much the same manner they approach the design of their software.

No doubt they do, when they get the chance and have the necessary graphical design skills (unusual in the many developers of my acquaintance). And your argument may well be true for indie developers and one-man bands.

But I have never worked with a software company where the developers had any say in the web design, which (in medium to large companies) is usually handled by marketing people (in-house or outsourced, but definitely in a different part of the organisation). If the developers are lucky, they might be asked to check for technical accuracy, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Which is why I base my purchasing decisions solely on the ready availability of information, and on trials of the software. It isn’t fair to judge software on the evidence of marketing material produced (potentially) by people who may never have used the product. You may say that boycotting software on the strength of its web page sends a message to the company but, sadly, the message is the wrong one, since the marketing people will blame the product for bad sales, and not their own work. I have seen it more times than I care to remember, and have seen companies fail (or decimate their market share) as a result, even with superb software offerings which their customers loved. Sad but true.

Yeah, it’s ugly and hard to use. But there is nothing that can touch it for really long projects that involved complex footnoting and/or many sections. I tried all of the major word processors when writing my dissertation, but I always came back to Mellel for these reasons. It’s a really powerful program. If you don’t need it’s functions, then it makes sense you’d not want to spend the time to learn how to use it. But for me, for handling really large projects, it really is the only choice. After Scrivener, that is. :laughing:

I am not sure why anyone would base their purchasing decision on the attractiveness of the web site, and not on the quality of the software. In small operations, I’d rather have the developers working on improving the software and not on fine tuning their web site. Admittedly, if the web site has major flaws in it – such as animation that doesn’t work or other things – you might gather some information about the quality of the programming of the software. But even so, if you try the program, like it, and it works fine, then why would you boycott the software because of the web site. This makes no sense! Boycotts are for companies that have unethical or immoral practices – and there are plenty of them around.

A classic case in point could be the Tinderbox website, which in my opinion would struggle in a beauty pageant, but which promotes a very useful piece of software. (Come to think of it, TB itself wouldn’t have won any beauty prizes either, at least until its latest 4.5 version.)

However, I’m not dyslexic, and I can well understand that I might think differently if I were.