Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Diaspora Deal Breaker or Why Designers Hate Readable Text

I signed up to be a Disaspora early tester and now that this new social media site is in alpha, I was sent an invite to join and give it a test drive.

Use this link to Sign up for a Diaspora invite. Check out the Diaspora blog for more information.

I've been on Diaspora for two days now, and I already hate it. Why? Because I can't read anything. Their designers have made a bad, but common, decision: most of the text is light grey on a white background.

Designers may say light colored text on a white or light colored background is "subtle" or "subdued" or aesthetically pleasing. I know why they say such stupid things. They don't like text. That's right. They prefer their art designs and pictures and drawings and photos and borders and boxes. They don't like to read. They don't like text. Text just gets in the way of their design.

Don't believe me? You should. I've worked with artists and designers, both on the web and in print advertising and direct mail, for decades. They're basically all the same.

I used to tell them, "That's the headline. Make it big" and other such things, because, bless their hearts, they just were not oriented to text. They were trained to focus on colors and shapes and figures and grids, but not on words. Words were alien to their sensibilities. I'm not saying they are all illiterate. I'm not saying they don't read books now and then. What I'm saying is that they have a blind spot when it comes to text. Words are just not their cup of tea.

Remember when music was distributed on CDs? If you have any music CDs sitting around in a box somewhere collecting dust, go grab it and look at the artwork. I'll bet you that 8 out of 10 CD covers and inserts are beautiful or interesting to look at, but difficult to read. CD cover artists are notorious for making text, the song listing and musician information, nearly impossible to read.

Designers think text is just another graphic element. One that they don't like dealing with.

They don't see their job as being to create a lovely or compelling setting for the text. Designers want to emphasize their design. They see text as an intrusion, an invasion, a non-pleasing interruption in their color fields. If they could, they'd eliminate text, and just have pictures and other graphic elements. In fact, there are some music CDs that are mysterious and contain no textual information. You have to just know that it's the new album by such and such band.

The music CD itself is another good example. How many music CDs, the plastic disk itself, has no textual information on it? Think way back when those ancient disks were what you listened to music with. Recall how many had just some artistic image on them. You had to just know and remember who the artist was and which album it was.

Hatred of text. This is a deal breaker for me.

If Diaspora does not make text more readable on their social media site, I'm done with it.

Doesn't anybody do usability testing anymore?

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