The Lapidary Lemur

Musings from Brandon Weaver

Design: Mortal Sins

So far we’ve covered quite a lot of ground in both coding and design, but before we get on to real work there are some things that need to be made clear. In Web Design there are certain practices that are absolute taboo, we’re going to cover them and why they’re taboo in the first place.

Note that this article is a revision of the 2011 article found here:

Bad Font Choice

One of the most common mistakes made, and one of the most damaging is using poor fonts. If your content is king then you want to communicate it to your user as clearly and effectively as possible. Font is crucial to that point and a bad call can cost you some serious points.

The most notorious offenders of misuse are Comic Sans and Papyrus.

Comic Sans is a perfectly acceptable font, but the real issue lies in its misuse. Comic Sans was designed to be used in Comics and Children materials. So if this is the proper use, why do we find it posted in Hospitals, Fortune 500 Companies, Schools, Professional Presentations, and more? The problem here is misuse. While it seems like a fun font you are far better off going with a time tested classic that reflects professionalism instead of “fun”. A more appropriate font choice for web would be verdana, georgia, tahoma, or times.

Papyrus on the other hand is a horrible font period. It has horrible letter spacing, it is practically illegible at most all sizes, and is a poorly made font that is used to make something look foreign. A more appropriate font would be something such as Trajan, which is a standard font on most computers.

Menus are one of the most critical elements of your site. Without a navigation that is clear and readable immediately you will almost certainly lose a majority of your visitors in an instant. It’s not about personality, it’s about the user.

Your safest bet in web typography is to stick with the classics: Times New Roman, Verdana, Georgia, Tahoma, and Arial. With CSS3 there are new methods of implementing new fonts in a practical manner. I fully support using this technology, but remember: with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t go overkill on fonts just because you have a massive library to play with.

@font-face and font kits are widely available, a quick google search will turn up multiple resources.

One of my favorite resources, two of my personal favorite fonts are Liberation and DejaVu.

Tables for Design

I’ve seen this point made in multiple places, and I can assure you my resistance to this is not due to some obscure elitism. I started designing pages in tables quite a while back, and I have long since seen the light of CSS based design.

Tables are meant for tabular data and were never meant to be a holder for any form of design. More semantically correct code is available and the differences in efficiency are absolutely astounding. Tables have some severe weaknesses, ignoring their deprecation in design. Each of these I have found through various personal experiences in learning and research.

By recoding an old tables layout I reduced the size of the site by well over 95%, not a small margin, several megabytes.

When I presented a site coded with CSS and Divs my clients were almost immediately able to comprehend what was going on in the page. When I would show anyone a tables layout they would sit there and stare forever and have no idea what they were looking at. It is far cleaner and substantially more readable.

Google and other bots absolutely detest long markup and useless tags which tables abound in. A CSS site is much cleaner and easier to parse for a bot, meaning you’re more likely to get relevant information out to where it counts: The search engines.

It is infinitely more flexible than tables could hope to be. I have one CSS file that controls the style for at least 5 pages whereas I would have to completely recode a table site just to add a minor item. This is wasted time on completely unnecessary tasks, I’ve saved weeks worth of time by making the switch. Complete site overhauls no longer give me insomnia and nightmares for months on end.

Gradients and Patterns are a Privilege

They are not a right, the way some people abuse them should be a crime. These are both background elements. The point of a background element is to be subtle and to accent the foreground.

By having blaring gradients and patterns splattered all over your page you’re detracting from the focus of your user, and you only have so long before they move on. What would you rather them stare at, your product or some tacky gradient/pattern that sticks out?

Publisher is not a web design program

Microsoft publisher is not a design program, I don’t care what type of insane ingrained reason you have. If you need more evidence of why this is a bad thing, just look at the source code of a publisher page, it makes tables look like nothing.

W3 Compliance is a good thing

It’s a pain, I know it is, but make sure to validate your code through the W3. This will save you tons of time in debugging. Standard compliant code eliminates a majority of the bugs you will ever encounter in design, a majority of the rest are bad measurements involving the box model.

Don’t bother with IE6

If you’re too young to know about IE6, be thankful. This standards hell was a hurdle for web designers for years. Microsoft became complacent after dominating the browser market for so long they quit updating for an extended period of time. To their credit they finally owned up and deprecated the browser.

The Geocities Nightmare

Geocities was a popular hosting platform of the 90’s that was recently shut down forever. Buried with it are several nightmares of the Web 1.0 era that should never surface again and see the light of day. Fluorescent colors are forbidden in excess, they get attention in all the wrong ways. Don’t blind your user with such gimmicks as this. No matter how cool that music is that you found or your band made, DO NOT set it to auto play when people visit. Some people like me are already playing music, and that’s the fastest way to get me to close the tab and never go back.

Animated GIFs are long since dead, like myspace, let’s leave them that way.

Patchy background images are not cool, they don’t add personality, they just drive a user insane. Be professional about things.

Comic sans is not to be used in web, period, even with cited instances in earlier subjects.

The font property is a privilege, don’t abuse it. A clean and readable font beats out a fun one every time, don’t do it.

Let’s make sure Geocities and its cesspool stay buried forever.

Copying other Designers

Just because you think something looks cool does NOT mean you can steal it from a designers site. Believe it or not there are legal actions to face for this, it’s best just to get inspiration and take notes rather than blatantly ripping parts off. Just like in school, even if you never get caught it will haunt you later on.

Playing Artist

Let’s get a point clear, design and art are two completely different fields.

Design is composition and how elements are situated to provide the same message to all users, it is a science.

Art is an abstract that can give several different meanings, it is a creative pursuit.

If you are not a skilled artist do not attempt to create logos or fancy headers, it will end poorly. You’re better off to hire an artist or get a friend.

This isn’t to say you can’t learn, but don’t try and do something far and above your head. Do what you know you can do. I’ve seen simple headers based on gradients and basic font that look amazing. You don’t need a massive amount of creativity to make a good design.

Remember: Design can be learned, art is a talent that is developed with years of practice.

Owning Photoshop or Dreamweaver does not make you a Pro

This is a sore point for several designers. Owning professional software makes you a professional designer as much as owning a stethoscope makes you a licensed neurosurgeon. Be respectful to professionals, they know what they’re doing and you hire them for a reason.

IDEs are a Bad Idea

Dreamweaver and its kin are a bad idea to use starting out with. They have auto completion and code snippet functions designed for pros. In the hands of a newbie this becomes a massive handicap, they become reliant and never learn the code. What do you think happens when there’s no more dreamweaver for them to use?


Keep these things in mind as you start on your design sprees, the next tutorial will be over basic typography.