“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
So said Jeff Goldblum, wisest of all Jeffs (with the possible exception of Zeldman) to safari suit-crazed boffin Richard Attenborough in cinema’s “Jurassic Park”.
Jeff knew what he was talking about, too. We all remember the thing with Samuel L. Jackson’s arm, don’t we?
Jeff’s profundity with regard to meddling in Nature’s Ways has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. But instead of DNA, I’ve been humming and hawing about jQuery.
Back to Jeff.
While Dickie was spluttering into his Chilean Sea Bass, Jeff followed up with some extra ‘blum-zen:
“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it.”
Are you beginning to see the connection?
jQuery requires very little discipline to produce startling effects. And while that is great for deadlines, I can’t help thinking that proper design thought is being short-circuited a bit. At least with one particular jQuery-enabled bit of magic: the Show/Hide widget, whereby clicking a button shows or hides a bit of content via a smooth half-secondish transition.
What was once expensive is now essentially free. And so it starts getting used all over the place. It’s seductive as hell. Section of content getting a bit big? Stick a show/hide on it. Too many sections making the page a bit long? Stick show/hides on all of them. FAQ page? Do you really need to ask?
I’m beginning to think this is a real problem. I think we have become a bit too enamoured and let clients become far too enamoured of this little warlock’s trick we can do just-like-that.
Hiding things that are sort of in the way or don’t quite fit isn’t any kind of substitute for showing the correct things in the first place. It’s too easy, if the page is proving tricky to get right, to just hide the rough edges.
There’s also a hint of “we know what’s best for you with regard to this inter-net page” about it. If people consume the content in this particular way they will be fitter, healthier, more productive, etc.
It has reached an absurd degree in some particular cases I’ve seen recently (naming no names). Where there seems to be an actual fear of showing the user too much content. And by too much I’m not talking about one of the chunkier Harry Potters. I’m talking about anything that might force its way beneath the page fold (these still exist, apparently). Four or five hundred pixels’ worth of nicely-set copy.
So you end up with FAQ pages where every section and every question/answer within that section is subject to a show/hide widget. Even if the answer is two sentences. Even if the answer is shorter than the question. Seriously.
Why is scrolling such a nightmarish proposition, but clicking one of half a dozen or more non-standard controls to display content that may only be relevant once revealed is the future of the human-computer interface? Just because you’d like your user to grok your UI the way Lobot might, it isn’t going to make it so.
People had been navigating newspapers, magazines, books, parchments and… errrr… scrolls for thousands of years before the Internet turned up, but somehow putting it on a screen means that more than a couple of paragraphs and people are going to be jumping out of windows?
Come on. What would Jeff do?