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James Wanless

this is where I write

Crossing the line from Twitter to email

Flash homepage for a NY design firm

Design criticism discussions happen all the time on Twitter.  Frankly, it’s an occupational hazard if you are in this line of work.  Late last week, someone I follow who also does UX work in New York, tweeted sarcastically that someone obviously thought this design was a good idea.  This started a discussion between us and a third, back-and-forthing about the design.  I wouldn’t normally bring a discussion such as this from Twitter onto my journal, but this is a special case.

Over the course of the Twitter conversation, the site’s owner (@zutalorsinc) chimed in, saying they’d love to hear our thoughts on the design.  Since they’re in New York, it’s not likely to happen, but given what transpired afterward, I don’t think they really wanted to hear my thoughts.  More on that in a minute.  An interesting preface to what comes below is that the site’s owner also retweets negative comments about their site, so it’s pretty clear to me that they don’t mind offending users.

In truth nobody was actually particularly negative in our discussion. In the screenshot above, there’s nothing immediately offensive about what you land on, after that is, being assaulted by your monitor flashing multiple neon colours at you for about five seconds.  Exploring, however, reveals several problems:

  • it’s entirely done in Flash
  • if you resize the browser window small enough, the NEW! image obliterates all the links
  • nothing is properly scalable for the viewport
  • the footer text with their address is hard to read against the photo background
  • every letter is a link that opens another window, thus removing control from the user
  • clicking ! opens, by my count, 28 new windows – yes, you read that correctly
  • there is no clear call to action anywhere, with some of these new windows sporting bright neon messaging and some with catalogue-style layouts of rapidly changing tile images, apparently part of what you finally realize is a very poorly implemented design portfolio
  • an uncomfortably large mouse pointer that makes the whole interface feel cumbersome

Insulting or what?

It was really the image that greets you in a mobile browser than sent my offense-o-meter over the top.  Would you give your business to a design firm who essentially told you to get lost if you were using a mobile browser?  Didn’t think so.  The image to the left is what greets you if you access their site on mobile.  What is obviously an attempt at cute humour basically tells the user to fuck off.  Nice.

At any rate, the conversation ended with me tweeting, "Awful strategy, wrong assumptions … And your design, while interesting, is poorly implemented."

Invading email privacy

The following is an email, verbatim, from Frank DeRose, of Zut Alors! Apparently, my last tweet directly above prompted Frank to look at my Twitter profile, go to my web site, click contact and fire off a response. Creepy and offensive, all at the same time.

After thinking about the above tweet for an evening, I felt compelled to send you a quick email explaining some things to you:

  1. You are presenting your opinion like it is some kind of fact. That is a shame, and frankly, presumptuous and arrogant. Just because you don’t “like” something doesn’t make it wrong, bad, or anything else. It only means you don’t like it, I appreciate the fact that you design interfaces; as a designer you should be aware that there is more than one way to solve a problem; what we find an appropriate solution, you may not… that’s fine. That’s what makes the world interesting, you don’t have to look at things you don’t like.
  2. Criticizing, in a public forum, people who are trying to do something, seems to me small minded. What is the benefit of you saying “Zut Alors sucks?” I see many things throughout the day that I do not like; I have never take a “public” stage and spent time trying to harm someone else… why do you feel the need to do so?
  3. I find it difficult to belieev you understand our strategy, considering we have never taken the time to develop a strategy. We make work to satisfy our clients and entertain ourselves; there is no strategy. There is only the work. And I would love to hear what assumptions we have made…

I think the next time you decide to spew a bunch of hate you should think about why you are doing it before you do it; the world is shitty enough without adding bile for no reason. I appreciate that you don’t like our website; you don’t have to.

Clarifying my position in response

I was pretty taken aback that someone not only hunted me down in this fashion, but managed to misinterpret what I said and be so apparently clueless as to good web design practice. It’s not like I hide my contact information at all but I also don’t expect someone to do this. For my money it’s pretty bad form and pretty thin-skinned of him. My response below.

Frank;

Let me respond, point by point, so you know where I’m coming from and so you can stop frothing about something you clearly didn’t ‘get’ on Twitter.  BTW, hunting down my email and sending a defensive email is probably guilty of some of the things you accuse me of below.  And, sending me an email like this doesn’t ensure your privacy with regard to the discussion therein.

  1. No I’m not presenting it as fact.  A tweet coming from an individual is an opinion.  If I was presenting it as fact, I’d say it was a fact, backed up by something or other.  However, it is fairly common among those of us who do, and have done for some time, design as a living, that opening numerous new windows as children/orphans of the first window, is bad ux practice.  The landing page also has issues too numerous to get into here, but just one of which is that resizing the browser obscures most of the content, defeating the purpose of having a web site.  Finally, what you chose to do as humour for those on mobile devices was, in practice, presumptuous and arrogant.  All of us tweeting yesterday found it insulting.  If you’re not designing for mobile now, you’re likely missing the boat.  And, if you don’t want criticism that you take offense to, try not to insult those users in the first place.  OK?
  2. Criticism?  Or, perhaps feedback you don’t like?  You’ve put your site in public and you’re presumably trying to sell things with it.  Instead of getting defensive, why don’t you do some real user research on your design?  You might learn something about it, but to paraphrase your position from bullet 3, there is no strategy and you only want to entertain yourselves?  OK, then …  If you think I was trying to harm you, or saying you suck, then you missed the point entirely.  All this after your mobile message basically tells users on such a device to go away.  Talk about the teapot calling the kettle black.
  3. Yeah, it’s pretty clear you don’t have a strategy, nor have you given the least thought to users and your site.  Unfortunately without strategy, it’s hard to properly satisfy your clients because a design without strategy often falls flat on its face as, in my opinion, yours has.  What assumptions have you made?  Well, for one, when you responded on Twitter that your design deserved more than viewing it through a phone, you assumed that’s the platform a mobile user has.  Plus, putting that message on your site for mobile devices assumes those users can’t browse your site.  Connecting what I said to those assumptions, your site is very poorly designed precisely because all the multiple windows removes control from the user and is bad UX practice, plus it simply won’t work on a mobile device.  There is no reason at all for doing it the way you have.  It invites feedback, criticism and frankly, mockery, as Amy’s original tweet to which I responded is testament.  Why don’t you ask others or users of your site what they think of the design.

You put something out on the web, you invite criticism and, if you are not prepared for it or can’t take it, you get defensive.  Nice.  I haven’t spewed any hate or bile, and suggesting I have is childish.  It’s not a case of me liking your site because if you’d taken the time to think about what I said on Twitter, I said it was an interesting design but poorly implemented – two very different things, which apparently you can’t discern the difference between.

Oddly, I never received a response to these points, but Frank did kindly tell all of us who’d tweeted about his site originally to "have a nice life" the next day.

Comments

Rahel Bailie says:

He’s lucky he encountered you with a benign “that sucks” because my response tends to be “take screen shots and use it in a presentation as an example of bad design – WITH commentary”.

James says:

Thanks Rahel. Who said it won’t show up in a preso, somewhere, somehow 😉

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