Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Never design what you can steal

As the old adage goes:

good programmers write good code; great programmers steal great code.

This is definitely true, mostly because great programmers have learned to do some research before writing anything at all. However, even great programmers tend to be absolutely terrible at graphic design, even though the solution is exactly the same: never design what you can steal.

A prime candidate for theft is this cheeky study in redesign. It works as a funny parody of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but best of all, it targets a page from usability guru Jakob Nielsen-- who often gets a black eye for his intentionally low-tech design layouts.

I was rather skeptical of this effort at first. As a developer, I sympathize with crappy layouts. It's what I do! I make really crappy, basic HTML layouts. Then I fool myself into believing crappy, basic HTML layout is a good thing because it's, you know, lightweight. Like Google! But these guys made me a believer. Their redesigns were a big improvement over the original, minimalist Nielsen layout:

  1. The original Nielsen Alertbox
  2. Rewrite of the text
  3. Redesign of the web page, with illustrations
  4. Enhanced print version (pdf)

I chose not to link to the "bonus Flash enhanced" version, which was not an improvement. As far as I'm concerned, the only proper use for Flash is to play Mr. Wong episodes.

Anyway, it was heartening to see how a few simple design changes could dramatically improve the basic HTML I regularly churn out. And if that doesn't convince you, how about this redesign of the famous "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" memo that originally inspired this redesign?

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: