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frames style page

3:04 am on May 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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A section of a website I am about to start work on is a manager interface. I pulled an old script out of the closet and dusted it off as a place to start. This old thing used frames. A top header, a left nav panel and the main content area. I have descided to drop frames and go with 3 div's and use AJAX comunication to populate the containers.

This is not a question of what technology is best or if my approach is the right one, this is about the overall feel of a frame style page, whether it is actual frames or my approach is irrelevant as it looks and operates the same in the browser. My question is, does a frame style page make the user feel confined and/or uncomfortable?

The reason I ask this is I was visiting a site for a quick review of the progress of the project and I all of a sudden felt like I was ducking under something. I noticed myself leaning more towards the screen and just had this feeling of confinement. I then realized the feeling came from the frame style layout of the page. A top and bottom div about 8% in height of the viewport each with a fixed position, with the center scrolling vertically between them. Had the look of frames, but it was using div containers.

The monitor I am currently using is a 19" crt. The browser is Firefox with a title bar, menu bar, and navigation bar at the top. The bottom has the status bar and the windows taskbar. The browser is maximized so I have plenty of real estate for the page to display. The page itself is a dark background with lighter text and somewhat cluttered with too much content for one page.

After realizing what I was feeling I thought about the project I am about to start and all of a sudden alarms went off in my head. I immediately went to the site and logged into the manager to see if I got the same feeling. Well, the manager has a much lighter background which makes things much easier on the eyes and I felt less stess from that aspect, but.... I still had a small amount of that confined feeling. Now, the manager does not have a bottom container which I think caused a majority of the confined feeling I got from the other page. But, the manager does have that left navigation panel and I noticed I leaned a little to the right to put my face in the center of the content. Great, now I'm going to cause my users neck strain...

I now find myself contemplating on dropping the whole frame style and just go with a full page scroll. I don't know yet. The manager really needs the two fixed containers for usability reasons. But, do I sacrifice the users comfort just so they don't have to scroll back to the top. Which is the worse of the two evils?

The users are not going to be real savvy internet users and this will be a somewhat techical thing they will be doing so I need to realize frustrations are going to be common. The user will probably not be used to being on a computer for hours at a time and if the interface makes them shift their posture then they get sore and even more frustrated. On top of it all, this is a paid service. If they get frustrated all the time then they don't use the service.

I really want to get paid... now I'm frustrated

I'm going to sleep on it. Anyone else have any thought on this... how about a link to that study with all the answers on layout and user comfort. ;)

3:19 am on May 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I would suggest going away from what you call the "Frames" design. I call it the "French Windows" design.

However, you probably won't lose money by using it. People are quite used to it, thanks to phpNuke.

It's very subjective.

Designers get into the whole "visually primitive" thing (picture someone with an expression on their face exactly as if someone were holding a very small turd under their nose while they say that).

I could care less about "visually primitive." Here's a very recent anecdote:

I'm designing a site that allows people to search a database, and get back a list of results. While I'm designing the engine, I've left the appearance kinda "visually primitive" (small turd).

The testers who have been using it LOVE it. They don't want me to change it.

I may still change it just a little bit to fit a more attractive theme, but I am probably going to have to sit on our designer's head to keep him from wiping the whole thing and imposing a less "visually primitive" aspect.

8:56 am on May 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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i think it depends on what is inside the 'frames'.
but you should look at it from a usability viewpoint, rather than a style one.

if the stuff in there is useful, and makes your site easier to use, then keep it. that is what it all boils down to at the end of the day - if your site is a joy to use, then people will stick around.

but if you're just using up a lot of screen space for no real benefit to the user, then i would dump it.

usability is more important than looking nice, i reckon... look at webmasterworld. it's hardly the most beautiful site in the world but we still stick around.