Chapter 11. Balancing Technology with People's Needs
353 Use Multimedia When It Benefits Your Audience
359 Overcoming Barriers to Multimedia
Accommodate Low-Tech Users
Tip: Providing Alternative Accessibility
Sites for Kids: Keep It Real
Design for Your Audience's Connection Speed
Provide a Simple and Accurate Loading-Status Indicator
Watch Your Language
Underestimate Your Users' Technical Knowledge
Detect Users' Bandwidth
368 Stick to Familiar Interface Conventions
375 Avoid Multimedia Excesses
378 Make Videos for the Web
380 The Practice of Simplicity
390 Toward a More Elegant Design
As technology continues to improve and more users have high-speed access, multimedia Web sites are becoming more prevalent. Done well, video, animation, and sound can enrich the user experience and delight audiences. Implemented inappropriately, multimedia is repellant and reduces your site's value. In this chapter, we'll discuss strategies to help you avoid common pitfalls and use multimedia to your advantage.
In the ten or so years since the Web became a widely used tool, it has turned into a multimedia environment. Many non-technical users have become familiar with following hyperlinks, scrolling to read text, clicking on images to enlarge them, seeing text and images animate, and even using VCR-like onscreen controls to play audio and video. As the technologies that enable people to produce multimedia improve, Web designers and developers are increasingly interested in supplementing their sites' text and images with audio, video, and animation.
But multimedia can be a blessing or a curse. Integrated thoughtfullyin proper context and skillfully implementedmotion and sound can aid usability, making content not only more entertaining and "immersive," but also more accessible. Unconstrained use of multimedia numbs the sensory experience, creating disruptive interactions and confusing site visitors with a cacophony of sights and sounds. In their enthusiasm for cool new tools, Web designers can lose sight of their primary responsibility: solving communication problems by making information easily available to their audience.
Flashback to 2000: A Note from Jakob Nielsen
Back in 2000 I published a controversial article in my Alertbox column called "Flash: 99% Bad." In it I claimed that while multimedia has its role on the Web, interactive animation technology tends to degrade usability rather than enhance it. This, I argued, was for three reasons: First, it made bad design more likely by encouraging gratuitous animation and idiosyncratic interface design, and designer-controlled action rather than true user interactivity. Second, it deviated from the Web's fundamental convention of interactivity. Third, and perhaps most serious, it consumed resourcesspecifically time, thought, and effortthat would be better spent enhancing a site's core value of providing information.
Of course I was overstating the case to provoke thought. Flash was not then and is not now inherently bad, and in fact can often be put to use very effectively. The ability to create a highly engaging Web site that has other dimensions of user interaction is very appealing. But when Macromedia first released Flash, Web creators and designers were so wowed by its capabilities that they applied it prolifically.
In the intervening years, Flash has matured as a product and to a large degree, designers have matured in their use of it. But the basic problem still remains: The overuse of bleeding-edge technology often has the opposite effect of what designers intend. Rather than assisting users on a Web site, it can prevent them from being fully engaged. The result is bloated, buggy designs that take too long to load, tie up people's systems, don't make sense, and ultimately drive people away.