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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
  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 - Conclusion and Notes
(Page 10 of 10 )


Wrapping up, it can be said that it is very easy to use hidden elements in a way that makes them more of a burden than a blessing. This applies especially to elements that are hidden and shown when the user hovers over other elements, which is a shame, because it makes the page appear a lot more interactive. Clicking elements does trigger an already known functionality - navigating to other pages or sending off form data. When we change this behaviour to make our solution more reliable, we change patterns the users already follow without needing to think about what they do.

As we don't know the users' setup and their abilities we cannot create a bullet-proof solution. Browser bugs add their share to render theoretically perfect solutions unusable. For the time being, we have to live with the certainty that we will repell possible users when we create dynamic page elements. It is up to us to judge if the benefits of them are worth that. Best case scenario would be to allow the user to turn off the solution via a page control.


[1] Unobtrusive Javascript self training course: http://www.onlinetools.org/articles/unobtrusivejavascript/

[2] Browser detection via Javascript: http://www.quirksmode.org/js/detect.html

[3] Legal accessibility requirements: http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=12

[4] Debunking the "3 clicks" myth: http://www.uie.com/articles/three_click_rule/

[5] "Type ahead" functionality in Mozilla http://www.mozilla.org/projects/ui/accessibility/typeaheadfind.html

[6] Pseudo class CSS specifications: http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/selector.html#dynamic-pseudo-classes

[7] Hover and Active problems http://www.quirksmode.org/css/hover.html

[8] Accesskey HTML specifications: http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/interact/forms.html#adef-accesskey

[9] Accesskey tutorial: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/accesskeys/

[10] Web accessibility guidelines on accesskey: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#link-accesskey

[11] Accessible scripts guidelines: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#directly-accessible-scripts

[12] Problems with access keys: http://www.wats.ca/articles/accesskeys/19

[13] Form elements covering menus in IE hack: http://homepage.mac.com/igstudio/design/ulsmenus/vertical-uls-iframe.html

[14] DHTML menus and Flash: http://www.communitymx.com/content/article.cfm?cid=E5141

[15] Usability study on dropdown navigations: http://www.uie.com/articles/users_decide_first/

[16] Eric Meyer, CSS expert: http://www.meyerweb.com

[17] Pure CSS popups: http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/edge/popups/demo.html

[18] Problems with pure CSS popups http://www.quirksmode.org/css/ie6_purecsspopups.html

[19] Nice titles: http://www.kryogenix.org/code/browser/nicetitle/ 

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