We Reward the Wrong Things

As an industry, in general we praise sites that look good, maybe with nifty animations, cool hover effects, and the mythical 60fps golden standard.

That is all nonsense. Ego-stroking pointless fluff. Usually lipstick on the proverbial pig.

Today I saw a well-known name in the industry, a brand name if you will, tweet a link to a site that was Beautiful, […] *and* fast-loading. I did not agree with the first part, but that really doesn’t matter as it is subjective.

The second part was demonstrably true. The minimalist site loaded quickly over my home high-speed fiber optic connection. However, the strictly decorative background image of the page weighs in at 4.3 megabytes. Compared to many other sites, it is a small page.

Think about that. Just because the page and images came down the pipe quickly, it is considered a fast site. A pipe in one of the largest cities in the world in one of the richest countries in the world. Which also holds a minority of the world’s population.

You can run any page through the calculator at What Does My Site Cost? A site which reminds us that, According to the May 1, 2016 run of HTTP Archive, the average site now weighs 2,312kb.

That Beautiful, […] *and* fast-loading site? It weighs 4.89MB (no ads, by the way). If I loaded that site on my mobile in Toronto, that would cost me $0.60 in USD. Here in New York? $0.31. In Japan, it costs $0.42 USD. Disclosure, this page you are reading has cost you 2¢ in the US.

The good news is that in Mauritania it would only cost me $0.33 USD.

Oh, wait, in Mauritania $0.33 USD is also 3.2% of my daily gross income. For the home page alone. Load another two pages off that site, and that is 10% of my take home pay. If I worked an 8 hour day in Mauritania, I would have to work an hour just to pay for visiting 4 pages from that site.

None of this is new. We are good at recognizing things that we like and that work for us, and assume everyone else feels the same with the same needs and limitations (or lack).

Web awards shows (where I have judged) used to ask print designers to review screen shots of web sites printed onto paper, mounted on boards and displayed under ideal lighting. Only when Flash became the thing did monitors get used to judge these sites, with nary a page of real content, but all the speakers plugged into the right ports. Nobody ever wants to see how it prints, how it performs in NVDA, what happens in an old browser, and so on.

If I want to show examples of terrible user interaction patterns, I just hit the top Webby Award winners.

If I want to show a crap-fest of accessibility as an example of almost everything you could do wrong, I look to the gushing popular media.

If I want to show developers who think they understand how to adapt to user needs but fail on the simplest test, I look at self-congratulatory sites devoted to those techniques.

I work in an industry with the potential to reach every human being on earth, with an unprecedented ability to make connections across humanity. The average developer worries about his or her CSS syntax, or animation jankiness, or custom fonts.

We reward that. We reward some cool technique to hide form field labels. We round our CSS calculations to four decimal places. We pay lip service to file sizes while stuffing hundreds of characters into class names. We offload page render to the user’s browser so we can have a simpler deployment.

We just keep feeding this. We hear about a cool site, load it, play with it for thirty seconds, share it, and never consider what the site is for. Whether it achieves its objectives. Whether its users care.

We bitch about the effect of ads on our battery life, about how some pages slow our top-of-the-line phones, about the flash of unstyled text as the font loads. We bitch about stupid, stupid things.

We have enough contests and award shows that reward bleeding edge, cooling-fan-spinning sites in all their glowing text effect glory. We need people who care, and judge accordingly, whether or not a site actually brings any value. People who can separate schmaltz from need. People who can truly empathize with users instead of buffing their egos.

This is why I get so frustrated with every {noun} library and hipster framework. With every new cool icon technique, or hidden navigation effect, or widget that knows if my mouse went to the top of the viewport. With tools that will only address accessibility if it gets enough votes in a voting system that is itself inaccessible.

We waste so much time as an industry rearranging deck chairs, and we are so proud of it.

Update: April 4, 2018

This rant resulted in me building a site specifically to help both judges and creators, though I did not officially announce it until now.

Or visit it directly: Does My Site Deserve Recognition?



I agree with every bit of this post, and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one in a ranty mood.


So, so right. thanks for ranting about the right things…


Every line in this entire piece is a truth grenade. Wow. Just wow. The work now is in changing the hearts, minds, and practices of those who continue to turn their backs on this wise perspective.

[Repeating my comment from Paul Adam’s fb, where I first saw Adrian’s post.]


I agree!

I have nothing else to add to your argument.

Mandaris; . Permalink

A site doesn’t need to be heavy to look better than this one though

In response to Jordy. Reply

This may be true, but at least it’s only time wasted reading your comment, not money…


I completely agree. But this is the nature of our industry, and of the world, since forever.

Dan; . Permalink
In response to Dan. Reply

And it is my nature to push against it.

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