Aug 272008

The last round of site changes went up last night, and today I’ve committed another, smaller change that will fix some legibility problems with code and other monospace text blocks. You can watch for when that change goes live by watching bug 452515.

It’s been pointed out to me that links to downloadable code samples are generally broken. I’ve filed a bug with IT to get that looked into; my guess is a rewrite rule needs to be added to the server to fix it, but I’m not certain. I’ll let the server gurus figure that one out.

I know some folks are still dissatisfied with the new skin. Complaints range from “I wish it were sans-serif” to “I don’t like drop-down menus, give me back the sidebar” to “ugh I hate it and I hate you for foisting this on me.”

Let’s take a look at these.

The sans-serif thing was a conscious decision. By using a serif font for the body text of the articles, and monospace fonts for code, variables, and so forth, the code bits stand out better from the body text. This is something that some people feel very passionate about, one way or the other, however, this isn’t something that’s likely to be changed soon (we have bigger fish to fry). If people still hate it in a couple of months, then we’ll look at it again.

I recognize the complaints about the drop-down menus as valid, at least to an extent. I actually prefer a sidebar or other always-visible interface myself when editing a wiki. However, after lengthy discussions with a lot of people before the skinn design started, we all agreed to go with the drop-down menus for one simple reason: to maximize the amount of actual content that the reader can view at once. Our goal is to present information cleanly and conveniently, and having a lot of “stuff” in the window doesn’t really achieve that goal.

That having been said, I still see validity in this complaint, especially for people who spend most of their time editing rather than reading the content, and it’s something I’m going to look at in the future, once other stuff has settled down. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I’m not going to promise anything — neither what exactly we’ll do nor when it will be done — but I will say that I intend to find a solution.

The last point I’d like to make is this: We put the new skin out there through several revisions starting in April. First with mockups, then with screenshots, and then, finally, an actual testable site for people to play with. I only got a handful of complaints during that time. It would have been much more helpful to have gotten some of the very good feedback I’m getting now back when it would have been easier to do something about it.

I know folks are busy, and a lot of people were very preoccupied with Firefox 3 at the time, but I’ve seen several comments from people basically saying that I drove this design through without consulting anyone, and am unwilling to take suggestions, and I feel compelled to point out I made every effort to ensure that everyone had ample opportunity to have their say and to help guide the design.

Anyway, having said that, I do want to continue to collect suggestions and requests, and we’ll see what we can do with them!

 Posted by at 7:25 PM

  6 Responses to “MDC tweaking continues”

  1. “I actually prefer a sidebar or other always-visible interface myself when editing a wiki. However, after lengthy discussions with a lot of people before the skinn design started, we all agreed to go with the drop-down menus for one simple reason: to maximize the amount of actual content that the reader can view at once.”

    Actually, from a usability point of view, that argument doesn’t work. There’s a range of line length in characters which are most comfortable to read – somewhere between 80 and 120. (That’s one reason we resisted pressure in Bugzilla to make comments full-width.) So a sidebar can provide links while simultaneously improving the usability of the page by reducing its width.

    Also, if this is the goal, shrink the big-ass header :-)

    My pet peeve – the search results return loads of content in languages I don’t speak, and the name contains the language code, which is ugly. Where can I set a pref for only English results? Update: Ah, found it. But some people might not even think to look…

    And can the “preview” text be better formatted?

    Lastly, I’m most unhappy with your blog software. I forgot to fill in the name/mail and hit submit. It moaned, and then when I pressed Back, my text was gone! I had to run LiveHTTPHeaders, reload the error to resubmit the post, extract the Post body and run it through a URL decoder to get my text back.

    That doesn’t happen on all sites, so I’m pointing the figure at your copy of WordPress unless you can prove it’s Firefox 3. :-)

  2. Gerv:

    We talked about line length during the design process, and finally decided to try the approach we took, opting in favor of reducing the need to scroll over reducing line length. We figured if people didn’t like that decision, they’d complain during the preview phase. Nobody did, so we left it alone.

    Unfortunately, the contract with the skin designer is over now, so we’ll have to pay more money if we want him to redo this stuff, or we’ll have to do it ourselves. That’s a significant frustration for me in terms of the lack of feedback while he was still under contract. Oh well…

    The header has been shrunk substantially since the earlier phases of the design. It’s actually only a little bit taller than the old MDC’s header, yet has more in it.

    The issues you mention with search are known problems, and I’ve got tickets filed with MindTouch to clean up the search results.

    I’m not aware of any preview mode at all, so I’m not sure what formatting you’d like cleaned up. Adding a preview feature is on our wish list.

    I don’t think I have anything set up wrong with my blog, but if anyone knows what I should check, please let me know.

  3. Sheppy: Sorry I wasn’t clear – by “preview”, I meant the snippets of each page on the search results page. If you have a ticket filed with MindTouch, that’s really great.

    I understand your frustration w.r.t. the designer.

    I’m not sure I ever saw the Deki-based version during the preview phase. I probably wasn’t paying attention – sorry about that. The reason I have feedback now is that I just wrote a small extension and so was using devmo a lot. You’ll be pleased to know that I found almost everything I needed :-)

  4. Gerv: Oh, that. Yes, we have a request in to clean up the search results display. I agree it’s pretty cluttered looking right now. It’s still better (IMHO) than the mess we were getting from MediaWIki though.

  5. For the (sans-)serif question, why not use the browser default font?

  6. Neil: You mean, just not apply a font at all, or just set it to “serif” or “sans-serif” and let the browser do the rest?

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