04 March 2007


Dumbest Design Decision

There is plenty of competition for the Dumbest Government Website Design Decision, but Library and Archives Canada is a strong contender for the short list. The following appears in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online website:

To display unique characters the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online uses a custom font. For the most accurate representation of the text, you must download and install the custom "NewKwah" font on your computer.

That decision, to use a very unusual special font to display ordinary text information in a government website, reveals a combination of arrogance and stupidity that is hard to match.

Library and Archives Canada offers a set of five instructions.
The first For Windows users:
1. Right click here to download NewKwah_.TTF and save it to your computer. Remember where you have saved the file - you will need it later.

This instruction does not work. When I right click on this link I get a pop-up menu that offers several options, including
Bookmark this link...
Save link as...
Copy link location...
Nowhere is there any mention of downloading a font.

I'm betting that this stupid design decision was made by someone who spent his/her formative years in the culture of printed books. He/she came late to electronic publishing, and has only the dimmest grasp of how the Internet works for the ordinary viewer.

At the bottom of this webpage, we see "last updated" in October 2003, forty months ago. The Internet changes as much in a month as the rest of the world changes in a year. Forty months on the Internet has seen change comparable to two generations in the real world. In 2003, someone decided to use a very special font, and wrote instructions on how to obtain and install this font, without ever considering whether that font or those instructions would work in 2007 (or 2008, or 2009...). It never occurred to that decision-maker that things change, and what may be desirable and workable today may not be desirable or workable in a new generation of browsers and operating systems.

In the world of printed books, you make a decision about a font, then set the type. After you run the book through the press, that's all folks. It does not matter what may happen after the printer has completed his work. Fonts may change, paper may change, ink may change, language may change, but none of that matters for a printed book. That's why I believe the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online website was designed by someone who understands printed books but not the Internet. The book will work in fifty years just as well as it did the day it went through the press, but an electronic document may not work properly fifty months after it was uploaded, because it has to be processed by software and hardware that has moved forward at the blinding rate we all are familiar with (all except the website designers at Library and Archives Canada).

There are no special characters used in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online that cannot easily and conveniently be represented in ordinary HTML with entities that are understood by all mainstream browsers. These work well with any ordinary font usually found in an ordinary personal computer, without hassling the viewer to undertake difficult (for the average person) procedures that may or may not work for the variety of browsers and operating systems and hardware that are in everyday use by citizens.

The following are examples of assorted special characters that can easily and conveniently be represented in HTML by entities. These are displayed here without the need for any special font, and without hassling the viewer. Any entity can be placed anywhere within ordinary text, as required. No fuss, no muss, no bother, no hassle. À Á Â Ã Ä Å Æ Ç È É Ê Ë Ì Í Î Ï Ð Ñ Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö × Ø Ù Ú Û Ü Ý Þ ß à á â ã ä å æ ç è é ê ë ì í î ï ð ñ ò ó ô õ ö ÷ ø ù ú û ü ý þ ÿ Œ œ Š š Ÿ ° ± ² ³ These special characters work properly with whatever font you may happen to have available in your computer. If I can do it, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online should be able to do it.

Do you see any special characters in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (assuming you are able to use that special font they admire so much) that are not available in the examples above?

By the way, the above examples are only samples; the complete set of entities includes many more special characters: Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ ϑ ϒ ϖ ℘ ℵ ℑ ℜ ∂ ∇ ≠ and dozens more.

I say that Library and Archives Canada makes the short list for Dumbest Government Website Design Decision.

Do you disagree?

I agree. Does the Nova Scotia web designers make the same mistakes?
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