AMC4x4, what struck me about the information density reduction on the new faddish sites was how incredibly bad it is for usability. But what really amazed me was bloomberg. If you are familiar with the bloomberg market, that is financial professionals who need to scan a lot of date quickly every day, from a variety of news sources. So for bloomberg to go from a one screen scan to get all the headlines (with an excellent mobile only version of the site) to a maybe, 4 or 5, maybe 8-10 screen scroll that doesn't even let you do a quick scan (keep in mind, the human mind only retains about 7 things at once easily from a page view) that one I simply could not understand, because it's impossible that was liked or found desirable by its users, who are all almost by definition power users.
I had not really dealt with mobilization of web sites until this year, because I thought it was a waste of time, but finally our user base was showing there was enough tablet/mobile use to justify it, but what struck me when I started using sites, and updating our code to be responsive, was what pure and utter bs this fad is really filled with. it's no problem to tap links, none at all, as long as they are far enough apart, and the font size is big enough. Now there is a danger with mobile users, as more and more sites go to low information density, massive touch surfaces, the normal training that would have happened to expectations and dexterity will not happen, and users will start to want dumbed down display surfaces. We haven't seen any sign of this yet, but our stuff is a work in progress, and we don't cater to younger users, who in theory would be MORE skilled at manipulating small things than older users, since they do it constantly, re mobiles, not less.
But I saw the same thing with netflix when they changed, say, you had a tab open with a tv series, it would show a normal text list of all the episodes, you know, like a table of contents, in, like, a book or magazine? Since those were text based links, they would, being html, show last visited status, which shows you which shows you have watched, for example. Then they changed to this aweful side scrolling list of big images, so say, you went from viewing 22 episodes for a year on one screen, including seeing which you had viewed, and under that, the next year, etc, to having maybe 4 big image boxes, which give almost no date to the user.
The comment that one should just say no to excessive js seems to be lost on many new web developers, and I'm starting to understand why, it becomes obvious when you start following web developer resources, almost everyone seems to be wanting to solve ALL problems with js, and I believe this is that age old web designer technical incompetence, where they don't know how to do server side programming. A few sites it does make sense on, like facebook, because really the entire page, almost, is dynamic, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
I see this more and more, where people submit forms using ajax simply because they don't even seem to know how to do it with html to a server side language, not because it's a good option. Same for writing out page content, that isn't dynamic.
ergophobe, despite lucy's protestations, the serif/sans-serif question I find to be pointless, users don't treat web pages like books, they if you are very lucky will read through one single long page, and scan a few others. So the real question there is: what scans better. What looks better? What I've come to realize that on web stuff, as with film, what is considered 'intuitive' is a complete fiction, these are conventions the human mind is simply trained to accept as 'natural'. I was fortunate enough to take some serious film classes where this was shown, how things we now assume are 'natural' and 'intuitive' actually came to be, like, exit left, enter right, for example,
Web stuff is the same, so any notion of natural and intuitive, simply means, conforms with expected patterns of use. Now, information density, that's an actual thing, ie, you either have it or you don't. This is where child sized fonts become dangerous however, because although people actually dislike that notion, they will use it, grudgingly, without knowing really what they don't like. That's a complicated issue.
But keeping it to just fonts, let's look:
I'm not concerned with variations on sans-serifs here by the way, the palette is bigger now than it used to be. As a base, I take the available palette to what windows xp shipped with, with font families that start, say, if you want to cater to apple users, the apple versions, then the windows, then the generics.
This is a fake test because I already by the way know the answer, but I'll do it anyway:
1. WebmasterWorld: sans-serif
2. bloomberg sans-serif, some headlines serif (I do this too by the way)
3. facebook - the number one site on the internet, sans-serif, of course, some headlines in serif.
4. ny times: they stick with serif, because we associate that with print media. ie, they want to look like print. this is a good decision.
5. LA times: same as ny times, they want to look like print
6. amazon: sans-serif, of course. I use amazon as a key utility, in other words, if I am curious how they are organizing their navigation, I see how they are doing it, though I have to note, with a major wince, their home page now is using hte big image chunky style too.
7. newegg - sans serif, of course
8. ebay.com - sans-serif, of course
9. google - sans-serif, of course
Since this covers probably about 80% or so of internet page views, it's a good sample. In other words, if you use the internet, this is what your brain sees.
But the real key here is this: ALL sites that want you to do something, engage, take actions, buy things, etc, in other words, the sites that interest most of us, use sans-serif. It's cleaner and easier to scan, less clutter. That's not an accident, it's why we use it too. Now, if your interest is in people losing themselves a touch in serifs, then by all means use it, but clearly the big sites who wants to make money from you doing something on their site are selecting what scans best, and leads to conversions, action, income. We've found the same exact thing, in fact, consistently when I tried to make our hx tags serif, I was after a while asked to switch them to sans-serif. Why? because sans was more legible.
One of the thing I no longer do, sadly, is pay any attention to alleged 'web experts' such as those studying the font style issue, why? because I have found that they generally simply do not have a clue, academics who are trying to show something or other, but who are always far far behind the times, and who often do not even realize these things are simply trained responses of the human brain, not actual rules of the brain.
But the great thing is, we all have direct access to web experts. In fact, nobody, as in our case, is actually more expert than us in our niche, in terms of conversions, seo, what our users like, etc, nobody, and everyone who has claimed to be were not, because the sad truth is, every demographic, and user base, has its own way of seeing and thinking, and it's up to us to FOLLOW them. User feedback, and particularly, users who fail to see or do something we think of as obvious (but it's obvious to us because we make the stuff, we can't duplicate the way a non tech user's brain works). So our feedback is: we love your site, great company, wonderful staff, blah blah blah. What we have not and will never see is users asking us this: please reduce the information density of your pages, we want only soundbites, and want to scroll a lot to access your information. In fact, we've been increasing the information density of the pages, not reducing it.
But to me, the true test was seeing what users of say, cyclingnews.com or chowhound did when faced with such redoes, which were clearly NEVER a/b tested, and I will bet you 10 to 1 that if a/b tests were done, the results proved that users hated it, but they went ahead anyway, totally ignoring the data. My strong feeling is that one driver of this is hierarchical corporate systems were managers are afraid of making the wrong choice, so they go with what others are doing, and that is literally the only thought process that happens at all.Then people start to create frameworks and libraries to meet this market need, and those frameworks and libraries are increasingly clunky, hard to modify defaults of (have you ever tried to debug minified js or css? that is NOT fun).
As an aside, to my eyes, print media that uses sans-serif looks really bad, it looks cheap, but screen media that uses serif is hard to read, and looks cluttered. That's because print and screen are two totally different ways of ingesting information. When you read print, you usually read a fair amount at once, when you read web, you often will read a page or less. So the way the brain works is pretty different, I can't say why serif appears to work better in print, it may because the extra curlies actually pull the letters off the white page, and make them stand out. I know that on a real book, printed very well, when I look very closely at the page, it appears that the letter actually is up from the page surface, but when you look at a computer screen, it's totally homogeneous as a surface, which of course is what makes in particular gray on off gray fonts so atrociously bad. LEDs just are not the same as physical ink on paper. I initially also tried to pretend they were on my first sites, but I no longer do that.
And of course, our friend physics helps explain this difference: a printed page is reflecting light, and that is what our eyes are designed for, but a screen is creating the light, which is a totally different way to see. And the reflected light is not built up from pixels, it's analogue. A good comparison is listening to a 64 bit per channel mp3 stream vs going to a live concert, that's about the difference I'd say in terms of the sensory input quality.
[edited by: lizardx at 9:14 pm (utc) on Oct 16, 2015]