Microsoft’s Silverlight was debuted a little over a week ago. This is their competitor product to Flash.

The first thing I wanted to find out about Silverlight was why would I use it over Flash? Their pages designed to answer this question (indirectly) left me feeling as if they’ve just copied the concept of Flash and have added nothing.

Digging around the Microsoft blogosphere turns up some hints that Silverlight may include support for Microsoft’s PDF competitor. So embedded document viewer instead of a separate plugin? Meh. Perhaps dynamically produce these documents within a Silverlight application? An interesting idea, but not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

It’s nice to see that this product will be supported on multiple platforms including a FireFox plug-in (I don’t see an Opera one) and support for Macs. Cool. However support for Linux is lacking, and that will hurt Silverlight’s chances a bit, but not much.

I gave Silverlight a test drive today. First thing you see on the Silverlight homepage is a video. Ah, so Silverlight does video playback, good. There’s a seek bar and volume control and an option to make the video full screen. All very nice… except 1) Flash does all this, 2) the UI is utter garbage and 3) it doesn’t show me anything unique about Silverlight.

So then I tried out the page turn media example. You’re shown a book, closed, and the words “page turn” on the cover. Great. Now what? Clicking on the book does nothing. Only if you notice the page curl in the lower left might you have a hint at what to do. Click and dragging this corner of the page opens the book up. Moving to the next page is done in similar fashion. Again, the UI for this sucks, there’s nothing unique about what I’m seeing, and what’s worse is you’re recreating PRINTED MATERIAL on a web page! This is the #1 rule to any beginning web designer: the web is not a printed page, don’t design like it is one.


The website and logo look like a page out of Apple’s design book. Lots of transparent, organic stuff. Yes, it’s Aqua.. 10 years after Aqua was introduced.

Now I will tell you exactly where Silverlight may prove quite powerful, even if Microsoft can’t seem to make the point in a direct manner on their own website. It’s the development tools. There will be a plethora of developer tools. It ties into dot Net, which is a fairly stable and well established platform. Developing Silverlight applications should prove to be quite easy. However the very well established Flash community already provides many tools and support for developing Flash/ActionScript applications. I really don’t think think Silverlight being tied into dot Net is a dominating reason to use Silverlight.

My initial impression is that it’s a cheap, bloated Flash knock-off. That Flash is already established on a large percent of the existing browser market (98% I think, if we believe Adobe’s numbers), it already does what Silverlight promises to do.

The Silverlight website does not inspire confidence or motivate me to develop in Silverlight. I’m certain Microsoft is aware that they need to provide features through Silverlight that are better and/or different from what Flash delivers. I’m sure there are obvious differences too. I just wish someone would tell me what they are. So far as I can tell, the dot Net tie-in and the use of Windows Media Player file formats are the only differences and, to be honest, I really don’t want either of those to begin with.

So why should I care about or use Silverlight?

Contrast and Meaning

This couldn’t be more timely for myself.

A List Apart has a new article up titled Contrast and Meaning and written by Andy Rutledge.

In my post from little over a week ago I was asking for just this sort of discussion. Although by “contrast” I was talking about color contrast whereas this article is about all different manner of contrast such as contrasting size, shape, orientation, and so on.

But the real gem of this comes in the comments on the article in which this pdf: Essential Web Skills is linked. This appears to be a PowerPoint presentation that’s been converted to PDF. We don’t have the audio of the presentation, but there is still quite a lot here that you will get something out of it anyways. Especially interesting is page 40 (as noted by the ALA commenter) which talks about text as not just content but also as the user interface.

It’s interesting stuff and worth a peek. Redesign just rolled out a new design for their website. As Fark is about people making comments on various news stories of the day, this redesign has already generated two threads on user feedback to the redesign.

If you’ve ever wanted to get an idea how people react or perceive redesigns in different ways, this is the perfect place to study. Especially interesting to me are the comments that call the redesign “Web 2.0”. It’s not “Web 2.0”, but that’s the perception, and it appears to be a strong one.

The two columns on the right of the page use to be split, one on either side of the main column. Now people complain the change has unbalanced the layout. Another interesting perspective. We’re taught that top and left is where you should put your most important content on the web page. The old Fark didn’t adhere to that principle, the new one does, and people don’t like it.

A lot of this is also just knee-jerk reaction to being presented with something new and unexpected so suddenly. That kind of situation plays to various parts of human emotion responsible for fear, which is exactly the kind of reaction people are expressing.

A slower, more methodical migration would probably have quelled most of the initial complaints. Perhaps a style switcher to let people pick the new design but default to the old design. Give users a chance to test drive the layout before it officially goes live.

This isn’t so much a redesign as it is a re-skinning of the layout. The basic structure in which news articles are presented hasn’t changed. Nor has the color scheme. Nor has the logo or the basic manner in which elements on the page or grouped together. This makes the reactions of the site’s user base especially interesting.

What would be nice to see now is a mechanism for users to submit their own stylesheet for and offer a style switcher containing the best designs submitted by users.

In any case, be sure to check out the user comments. If nothing else I think it will give you a basic idea of how your user base will react when you decide to redesign your website and don’t include them in the process.

Color, Contrast, and Eyeflow – Your Input

Long story short – some interviews conducted about a website I helped develop included comments that navigation was confusing and complicated. Further responses seemed to indicate that users were not using navigation in the manner originally intended. “Landing pages” designed for specific target audiences were being ignored in favor of “power user” navigational elements.

Other complaints talked about certain points within the website taking “20 clicks” when in reality they were 2 clicks away. Their click-paths would take them through basic “mini site-maps” rather than the intended path of “target audience page -> link to target page”.

One idea that was brought up was that the webpage was too evenly weighted visually. That users weren’t visually drawn to the “main menu” and perhaps meander through the page with their eyes.

I’m curious about this idea. I’m trying to find articles, books, anything that might cover how web pages are visually processed and how color, contrast, and images might help draw a viewer’s eye through to the “main menu” and keep them from wandering.

A couple ideas that came to mind right away were to move the “main menu” towards the center of the page by including greater gutter space on either side of the page.

Another is to somehow dramatically differ the menu from the rest of the page via contrasting colors or some other means. But this is all simple, off-the-top-of-my-head idea type stuff and not supported by fact.

So if you’ve got any online articles, or know of any books or websites that address this topic, or you’ve got your own thoughts on the subject, toss me an e-mail or post a comment to this blog entry with your information.