Shovelware Online Newspaper Design

Steve Outing has a good story today about most online newspapers’ woefully rigid and cluttered graphical user interfaces, the design equivalent of shovelware. He quotes Howard Finberg of the Poynter Institute (as is Outing) and the Digital Futurist consultancy and Nik Wilets of Morris Digital Works; but mainly quotes graphical designer Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design.

I agree with almost all of the story. My sole concern is its recommendation to use dynamic HTML (DHTML) to make navigation links visible only when the user’s mouse rolls over them. That solution will work only when people are browsing from desktop or laptop PCs. But a minority of users nowadays browse from mobile handheld devices (such as mobile phones or Mobile Digital Assistants), whose browsers can’t handle DHTML. The DHTML navigational links won’t work for them, leaving them stranded.

Fortunately, that minority is perhaps less than 1 percent of most U.S. online newspaper sites’ users, but it is growing. Elsewhere in the world, it’s already a larger percentage or even the majority (for example, in China, where only 45 million people have Internet access through PCs but 200 million do through mobile phones, it’s the clear majority of users). DHTML is a workable solution for maybe three or four years with curent technology, but maybe not once a significant minority or majority of access is mobile.

I hope that browser software in those devices by then will also use DHTML. Meanwhile, I don’t think that adding more coding (DHTML) to create rollover elements is the best solution to complicated graphical navigation.