Sacrificing Legibility For Coolness

If Internet is a new medium of expression, in which almost everyone can upload something without being an artist or programmer, the way to do so should be free.

Doesn't matter if you find navigation difficult, or interface is very high resolution much bigger than the one at your monitor. If the graphical content invites you to think about it, or even if you don't have an idea of what is all about on this page, that's right!, that's the way internet is growing, and we are taking part of its evolution. This is more important than having everything under control.

Examples: Not sure where this fits in to this page (perhaps someone could gnomely edit this for me) but I think that Heavy Metal bands have this down to a T with the use of logos. Bad for legibility good for coolness, make of it what you will.

[Disrespectfully disagree:] This sort of crap is why modern art is often so dumb. If you're trying to express an idea, you don't try to hide it behind some coolness. Simply put: if you've got something to say, say it clearly. If you don't, say it however you like. Except in a world where the expression of ideas is instantly co-opted by market forces. In that case the market forces will attach to the coolness wrapper, preserving the idea.

BTW, The Internet is a communication mechanism, not a "media of expression".

The Internet is a communication mechanism but web pages are a medium of expression. This page is about web pages, not TCP/IP protocols. But that's not what the top paragraph says the page is about... I have some sympathy with your wish to clarify the difference between the Internet and the Web, but however you read it I think the top paragraph is just fine. I remember very well how the Internet was before the Web came along, and it's always been a medium of expression. (Well, OK, after the first few weeks maybe!)

I think it is a somewhat nerdish interpretation to assume all information on the Internet needs to be about the dry and efficient communication of information. This isn't true, no more than it is for all magazine pages. Not all web pages should be the web equivalents of the WSJ or Economist. I see no reason why they shouldn't sometimes look like Viz, or Kerrang!, or even Playboy. So, sometimes, SacrificingLegibilityForCoolness is fine. Depends on what you're trying to do.

If you're trying to express an idea, or otherwise communicate, SacrificingLegibilityForCoolness is a really dumb idea that's working against your primary purpose. If all you're doing is showing off, then it's fine. -- AnonymousDonor

Sometimes you can use visual communication to get to the heart of the idea, or to evoke a feeling or emotion with great economy. Some modern art is dumb, but the best of it is simply devastating in its effectiveness. Likewise, some of this coolness in web design is expressive. -- RobertChurch

I once followed a URL to a website that had a single big image map for its front page. No text explaining anything, just an image of a grid of shapes. When you moved the pointer over the shapes, the info window of the browser displayed cryptic text (I assume) that was supposed to inform the viewer what was beyond the link. Clicking on the active area of the image map led to other image maps with similar opacity. If the author was trying to inform, s/he failed. If trying to entertain, s/he failed. All I was left with was the feeling that some newbie webmaster/mistress had just read about imagemaps the day before crafting that site. -- PeteHardie

The above is an example of "Mystery Meat Navigation" (

... I don't think it's a matter of whether you "have everything under control" - it's a matter of whether it works. Does it matter if feature X breaks? The designer should decide.

stupidity with MacromediaFlash I have to laugh when I see a 100% flash site. How am I going to bookmark anything? How do I send a url to a specific part of the site to someone? Can I use the "back" button? Can I save a page? Just suppose that I was blind - could I read anything?

stupidity with pop-ups Those neat, non-resizable pop-ups are another nice example: there's content off to the right of the window... Besides, I have the font size set to "Largest", and their style set-up insist on laying the body text out in "microscopic".

Father forgive them, for they have not a clue.

Recently, I was thinking of seeing the movie Cast Away. I went to the official site,, which is very artistic. I have a relatively slow connection. I killed that browser session after a few minutes of very painful waiting. (and am about to kill it again now. ;-) It's slow, and it takes over the whole freggin' screen! I went to several 3rd party sites and got the information I wanted. See (Yes, it was a really good movie.) -- JeffGrigg

The last browser you'll ever need is Lynx. The LynxBrowser goes right to the essence, omitting all form in favour of the content. Sometimes, a website will turn up completely blank in Lynx. The obvious conclusion holds.

Sometimes, one gets s*ckered into firing up NetscapeNavigator, to see the frame-dehanced pretty pictures. It is always a disappointment. Better stick with Lynx' judgement. -- StephanHouben

Here's the official Cast Away web site ( in Lynx:

                                                                C A S T A W A Y


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
And that's about all you can see of the whole site. [The web site is wrong, not Lynx.]

It doesn't really matter who's wrong, the effect is still the same: if you use Lynx, you're unable to see a lot of the Web's content. Conclusion: Don't use Lynx.

No, one of the points being made here is that some of the web's content is worthless (for example, mystery meat interfaces). Lynx prevents the user from seeing that sort of worthless content. (Lynx also prevents the user from seeing other content, such as webcomics, but that's not the point being made here.) -- BrentNewhall

(The site has been fixed; it's more rational now.)

What's even worse (sitting here between SystemAnalyst and MarketingAnalyst?)... I had a graphics company come by to show me a website plan that they have done for other sites. I deliberately uninstalled MacromediaFlash, RealPlayer, and a few other gadgets and gizmos before the rep arrived. He tried to show me the sites. I got to them and said, "If I have to install a piece of software to see anything at all on your sites, I will not look at them." That's the last I heard from that company: The lesson learned: If you don't want to be caught SacrificingLegibilityForCoolness, do it yourself. -- WyattMatthews
I love modern art, avant-garde film, whacked-out designs in fashion magazines. I love outlandish sneakers. I love design-conscious furniture. But I hate webpages that try to be flashy. Why? Because the medium sucks for it.

Why are you trying to make visual art for my monitor when the color palette and resolution pale in comparison to what I can see in a gallery? Why are you trying to make a cutting-edge design magazine for the web when you know that even with decent anti-aliasing the quality of the print will be much worse than they would be in paper? When I'm online, I am highly conscious of the fact that all of these qualities are sacrificed for other qualities.

The internet gives me immediate access to small chunks of facts, text-based communication with friends and colleagues, up-to-the-moment news. It doesn't give me a "rich multimedia experience": that's what a movie theater is for. It doesn't give me "compelling content": that's what a book is for. It gives me the ability to look up a recipe for eggs benedict without leaving my couch. That's what it's good at.
There are very few examples of cool on the web, there are a lot of examples over complex cleverness.

Of course a DefinitionOfCool is tricky, for me examples would be Opposed to Something to do with unforced emergent elegance.

The only Web site that's really made me think "that's cool" is

This seems to freeze at least MozillaFirefox for me. That's not cool. --JesseMillikan

Moved from AestheticsInterferingWithFunction:

I was at MacroMedia's website the other day, and it kept saying, "Please type a search term in the input area". I was confused because there was no input area, only a drop-down box. Thus, I kept selecting different items from the drop-down box in order to get some reaction. It turns out that I did not spot the input box because it had a non-standard appearance. I thought it was just a decoration stripe. Being "different" can also result in confusing your customers/users.

See also AccessibleWebPageDesign, PopWebsiteDesigners, AestheticsMatter

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