Do the Old Rules Still Apply in Design?

The Internets have been around long enough you can now go back and look at "old" website designs and see what's changed. It's really fascinating to look at an interface design book from a while ago and see what people were dealing with.

For example, the time it took for a page to load used to be of paramount importance. We were in the land of dial-up connections. People carefully constructed Web pages so that they wouldn't have to load too many graphics. Making people stare at a spinning clock or hourglass - and half a graphic - was death.

Well, these days we've got YouTube videos all over everything, animated popup ads that slap themselves over the top of whatever you are looking at, weird little dancing people in banners at the side of the page -- is this good?

One thing that hasn't changed is how much people like to control the display of information. Listing things according to what people care about is still extremely important. I remember working on the info architecture for the Xerox website years ago, and we came up with a way to compare various printers and copiers by letting people re-sort the list of products according to things like paper size, whether it could fax, resolution, etc. This was pretty new, and some of the architecture got into Jakob Nielsen's book Designing Web Usability (page 215, yes I'm still proud darnit).

These days, people sort things all the time. You can sort your email, sort your files on your desktop, and shopping sites are one big sorting festival.

So, yes, the old rules still apply - the ones that say the user wants control. It's just that now, we can give people control of the information along with a nifty video of the latest celebrity meltdown or an animated person gaining and losing weight over and over. Isn't that great?