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Guest Post by Eric Holter: Agency Website Gaffe #1 – The Browser Re-Size

Now that Eric, our former CEO, is off to new heights in his career, I’ve invited him to contribute a few guest blog posts. This is the sixth of several that he’ll share in the coming months.

After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Eric Holter worked as an engraver and illustrator for Pagano, Schenck & Kay Advertising, then as a web designer at Leonard/Monahan. He founded Newfangled Web Factory in 1995.

As an agency consultant I spend a good deal of time visiting agency websites. I haven’t counted precisely, but a large percentage of the agency sites I visit attempt to take over my browser. These sites either launch a new window, or maximize my browser to fill the screen. Before I calmly explain why this is a very bad idea and a poor web strategy I must vent some rage… PLEASE STOP! STOP STOP STOP. YOU ARE NOT INVITED TO REARRANGE MY DESKTOP!

Ok, that felt good. The impulse to control the browser window is common among advertising agencies. It stems from the art director’s historic ability to precisely control every aspect of page layout, typography and design. I remember in the old days prepping a Dexter Shoe ad layout for Hal Curtis (a creative director whom I greatly admire). It involved sending out for a photoset type galley, scanning the text, enlarging it on the Cannon copier (not the Minolta) and finally reducing it back down to size with the stat camera to achieve a subtle worn, slightly grainy feel. Hal Curtis is a true craftsmen, and this full spread ad was an award winning thing of beauty.

Agency art directors are used to this level of control over layout, so the idea that they need to design for a format that has no fixed width or height is sometimes just too much to endure. When they ask if there is any way to control the browser’s size (thus ensure their carefully crafted web page layout’s integrity) and hear that yes it’s possible but… what ever follows the “but” goes in one ear and out the other. If there is a way to control the browser that’s what they want (and they usually get their way).

But this is a mistake. First of all it’s just plain rude. I have my desktop situated very carefully. I’ve set my browser’s location, in relationship to my Instant Messenger, my Rhapsody player, and other windows as well my browsers width to maximize my productivity. If you maximize my browser window you screw all that up. It’s so inconsiderate and arrogant to think that I would of course want to maximize my browser to see your wonderful web design in all its full-screen glory.

Now some agencies just pop up a smaller window rather than maximize the entire browser. This is less obtrusive and not as infuriating as maximizing my browser. But it seriously hurts the effectiveness of the agency’s site. For one thing, it pretty much closes the door on search engine indexing. When Google or any other search engine sees a link embedded in javascript (which is what you need to use to pop a window and control its size) they ignore the link. That’s because this technique can be used to maliciously redirect link from one page to an entirely unrelated (spam) page. So if you feel so strongly about preserving your layout that you’re willing to dismiss all search engine traffic, you may have a clean layout, but you’ve proven that you can care less about maximizing web strategy. Not a good idea in this day and age when the advertising agency’s influence is slowly eroding due to its weakness in digital media and web strategy.

One other reason browser size should be left alone has to do with the content of the website. Effective websites are content rich.Website’s that have gone through the trouble of controlling browser size usually also want to control copy length. They want to preserve the layout and not mess it up with lots of paragraphs (Oh, the horror!). So browser control leads to copy control, which tends to make sites static and shallow.

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