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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Jun 07, 2007 | 19:30:33
Website Design Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong
By marcwan

There are lots of ways in which a website can be annoying. Favourite methods include: rotating and blinking animated GIFs (or worse, Flash), popup advertising windows, unexpected background music files, or just plain all around atrociously ugly page design. (I’ve been quite guilty of this in the past!)

But until you’ve lived in China, or at least spent some time browsing around websites here on the mainland, there’s probably one way to annoy the living bejeezus out of people that you’ve never thought of.

To demonstrate, simply visit any Chinese website, such as the Bank of China or something else such as Chinaren. Don’t worry if you can’t see the characters, they’re not important for this experiment. (Windows XP users can add them by going to Control Panel /International and installing the Asian Font Pack, while Vista and Mac users will have all these fonts installed already).

Once you have one of these pages up in your browser window, click on a link or two. Click on some more links on those pages. Try to get back to where you came from. Within minutes, you’ll have at least a dozen browser windows littering your desktop, or at best, for those Firefox users with the correct settings, dozens of tabs.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was specific to a few sites with particularly bad design. And you’d be totally wrong. This is completely endemic here in local website design, and is how the locals think that the “Internets” should work. Indeed, there is almost no concept of forward or back button usage any more, and it is not uncommon to see users with well over twenty browser windows littering their desktop at any given time. While Windows users can at least expect the Task Bar to group similar windows, Mac users just end up using the mouse to move the windows out of the way until needed later, or until they just close the browser application completely.

Ultimately, the problem becomes such that, if you want to fix the site design to not do things this way, you will confuse your user. When they click to go to a new page, and they then subsequently finish visiting it, they will close the browser window and proceed to go looking through their other browser windows until they find the one from whence (they hope) they came.

The only thing I can say? At least blatent ripoffs of other sites on the internet don’t seem to have felt compelled to introduce this behaviour into their clones. For everybody else, it’s going to take a while to change this design.

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