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Online media matters

Main Page Rants

Macs, frames, and usablility

Figured I had all the problems of a three-column, liquid, CSS layout worked out, then the Mac-users at webdesign-L pointed out that the whole thing falls apart on IE5/Mac (despite rendering fine on IE4 through 6 and Mozilla on a Windows machine).

Provided a good dose of humility. I'm now tackling a fix.

On a semi-related note, the first outside site I designed was a frame-based one for the Ryerson Review of Journalism. The design, in hindsight, that would have given Nielsen & Co. a heart attack (in my defense this was in '96 and usability was not yet a fundamental design principle).

The use of frames, in that period, was debated with more vitriol than the use of Flash is today. Now, five years later, that site has brought back frames and I too find myself working with them again.

Although browser improvements and JavaScript hacks have lessened the usability problems, frames remain a thorn-in-the-side of elegant, usable design.

Frames can work for small sites like the one I had designed for the Review, but for large sites, like the one I am currently working on, they become a nightmare. And when combined with Java, JavaScript, and Flash, well…

I will be very interested to see how this latest project makes it through the usability testing. Perhaps the site architecture, the cues placed into the design, as well as the standard-based code will save the day.

Yeah, and maybe my site looks fine on a Mac.

Note: after an intensive session by usability-consultant Tammy teWinkel, it looks as though my concerns were groundless. (There's a reason these are called "rants"!) Testing of the site illicited positive reactions all across the board.

Also, after removing the absolute positioning from the left navigation bar, and the replacing the relative positioning with absolute in the content area, the IE 5/Mac problems seem fixed. If not, please email me.