Response to Dan Zambonini re:Stack Overflow

This is in response to Dan Zambonini’s article on the design of the excellent programming Q&A site, Stack Overflow. In it, Dan suggests some improvements that could be made to the user experience. By the time I typed out my thoughts, he had closed the comments. So, I thought I’d stick ‘em up here.

I’m a big fan of Stack Overflow, I listened to their podcast, hear them every time they’re on other podcasts (more, more, more, more, more, etc.), I love that they used MVC, OpenID, etc etc etc. (and Experts Exchange really needed to die). I am a professional full-time developer and have been for many years. I’m very used to, and comfortable with, black text on white.

However, as someone mentioned, this is more like an app. I prefer my apps be usable, and so do most people. The voting arrows do look disabled. The main question/title is too small. The tabs/buttons are unclear. The pages are too cluttered. Perhaps some of the meta data should only be shown to registered users? Googlers simply don’t care (especially since the interface is changed for registered users anyway). It appears that effort did go into the first-time user’s experience (the FAQ yellowfade at the top, the Hello World box), but it really needs to be simplified for them, not cluttered. I think Dan’s mockup is a great start (especially the top/nav area).

The Responses

It’s clear Dan really put some thought into this. It also seems clear that many of the commenters didn’t… they sound as bad as Apple fanbois – “SO can do no wrong!” Of course the interface can be improved! Nothing’s perfect! I expected to see support in the comments because Stack’s interface clearly leaves much to be desired.

There seems to be a lot of attacking of Dan’s work by admitted developers. This is a design suggestion, not an architectural one. Perhaps these people should spend some time reading design blog/books (ie. BoagWorld, Don’t Make Me Think, PPK, Zeldman, Think Vitamin, Jason Santa Maria, Cameron Moll, etc, etc, etc) before they critique what is obviously outside of their skillset.

Lastly, Dan never said he didn’t like SO (he said the opposite actually), he didn’t say it was the worst, and he didn’t insult your mothers! He makes very good points and I think Jeff and Joel should put more stock into actual UX testing (eye tracking, heat maps, A/B, etc) rather than listening to a bunch of developers spit out design ideas.

…just some of my thoughts. I care because I love SO and would like to see it improve, and because Dan’s effort seemed to be lost on 85% of his readers.

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  • jes sayin’

    Dan’s criticisms are wrong, because they’re made based on ignorance of the design philosophies of Jeff and Joel. Dan thinks the objective is to make stackoverflow comparable to Yahoo Answers–he wants to broaden the appeal of the site in order to focus on drawing traffic. He’s probably the consultant that designed Experts-Exchange or Yahoo Answers. So his suggestions are about homogenizing the site to its competitors and/or weakening the functional parts of the site in favor of making it look nice at a glance to someone who doesn’t program. Which brings my to my second point…

    Jeff and Joel want good programmers to visit their site. Jeff’s design philosophies, from listening to the podcast, are that it’s just as important what you exclude as what you include. Jeff would not want to flood his site with non-programmers. By catering to non-programmers, you lose the core audience that makes the site valuable.

    Dan seems well intentioned; either that or he’s trying to fight up in an attempt to gain recognition off of stackoverflow’s success.