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DESIGN USABILITY

Dynamic Page Elements-Cloak and Dagger Web Design


There are not many aspects of web design that seem to ignite the same fascination in developers as making elements dynamic by hiding and showing them on user interaction. Collapsible lists, maps with hover elements and multi level drop-down navigations still seem to be hot and need to be part of a web site to make it "cool" and to "increase usability". Much like the magician conjuring the rabbit out of the top hat for the tenth time in a row, this design stunt does gets a bit stale though. Maybe it is time to take a step back and look at what we do.

Author Info:
By: Christian Heilmann
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 14
October 18, 2004
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · Dynamic Page Elements-Cloak and Dagger Web Design
  2. · The Origin of Dynamic Elements
  3. · Current Problems
  4. · Troubles with Available Screen Estate
  5. · Current Uses of Dynamic Elements
  6. · Explorer Menus (collapsible list navigations)
  7. · Collapsible Page Elements
  8. · Tooltips and Hidden Extra Information
  9. · Enhanced Internal Navigation
  10. · Conclusion and Notes

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Dynamic Page Elements-Cloak and Dagger Web Design
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The History of Dynamic Elements

Originally, HTML was not meant to have dynamic elements that show up when the user interacted with other elements. That is what links were for, and interaction with them meant a new page was loaded.

In the olden days we were amazed to see a bunch of links in different states (link, active, visited) and we looked awe struck at a blurb of colour or a rectangle slowly turning into an image.

These restrictions and the simplicity also had its merits:

  • Sites were designed to tell us at any stage of our journey where we are and where other pages with related content are - a static navigation on one spot.

  • The different link states made us realize where we have been already and what is new without any search effort.

  • Deep sites never dared to show us links not related to this sub section in the main navigation - the sitemap, the search and internal promotions fulfiled that job nicely.

When CSS got supported and JavaScript allowed us to modify elements and their CSS attributes, "DHTML" was born.

"DHTML" is not a standard; it is a marketing word, and there was a time when a new site needed to have a "DHTML" intro and elements, or else it would not show up in the "cool pages" lists of our web world. Browser shortcomings and newly emerging browsers triggering the need to change the scripts over and over again soon made it transparent though that "DHTML" was just not reliable enough. These incompatibilities and the high maintenance made many an obtrusive and badly designed web site go the way of the Dodo bird. We are now at a stage where we can create some of these effects in CSS only, and our Javascript skills have become more sophisticated [See Note 1]. We can test if a browser supports a certain technique before we apply it, and we have browsers that are more sophisticated and standards-literate at our disposal.


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