Ajax: Killing Usability One Request at a Time

—Saturday, August 12 2006

My oh my how we’ve wandered down the wrong path. No–it’s not the path where our users praise us for the immensely useful service we provide; Not the path where where we’ve done what’s best for our users; Not the path where we evaluate our choices based on context instead of technology. We have instead taken the proverbial “slip and slide” down the road where Ajax “live” anything is assumed to be better than well justified design decisions.

Hi, My name is "YOUR NAME HERE" and I'm an Ajaxaholic.

Where we’re at

Remember when you were a kid in the store; wanting to eat every piece of candy on the shelf? Or maybe you remember the first time you used a layer style in Photoshop; Bevel and Emboss anyone? Dropshadow?

You never really understood why your parents wouldn’t let you have all that candy, or why seasoned designers would snub at your masterpieces. You were oblivious, immature, and naive. But, alas, we all mature with time. We begin to take note that the things we once thought were great had negative implications. Whether it be rotting teeth, or design cheese, we eventually learn the error of our ways.

Well, today, we are that kid in the candy store. Ajax has become the presumed “best way” to implement a lot of things that would be much better without it. We’re not having our conversation with the situation; instead, making design decisions based on blind assumptions, pounding this square peg into a round hole.

How we got here

How did we get here though, and how do we get out? While I don’t have a definitive answer for either of those questions, I do have a few assumptions.

It’s to easy: It’s never been easier to implement Ajax. With all the well designed Javascript (yes, Javascript, not Ajax) libraries out there now, it takes very little knowledge to implement Ajax in an application.

Assumed value to user: Live search is better than a well implemented search feature. A spinner graphic while waiting on an action to execute is always better than the brief flash of browser reloading.

Dollar signs: Marketing departments have a field day with this. I mean you can’t bill your company as 2.0 if you don’t have excessive amounts of bad Ajax in your application.

Poor Resources: This one bothers me, because these resources could be great, and are great at times. But when you’ve got leading websites that have Ajax in the name not promoting responsible use of Ajax, but rather using a “Cool, look at this!” tone on a lot of their articles, it doesn’t help the culture. If your promoting Ajax tutorials, running an Ajax site, make sure you point out that there is no such thing as Ajax Rounded Corners.

Cleaning up our act

We’ve got to make smarter decisions on when to use Ajax. Don’t just assume something will be better with Ajax. We’ve got to weigh both the Ajax and standard way of doing things and make a well informed decisions, not blind ones. Design your applications based on the needs of your users, not buzz words for the feature list.