Sometimes designers make decisions that need to be overridden. And sometimes you are the designer yourself, and you need to look at your work from a distance and see why you’re making your readers miserable.
A popular Ubuntu blog recently changed its theme, so that all quotations are transformed to upper case:
We could probably argue with the designer for days about why it’s a bad idea to have large blocks of text in all upper case. We might be convincing, and we might not. Perhaps in the end it really is a matter of taste, and all the Editor can say is that he hates reading large blocks of upper case. He also dislikes the use of an opening quotation mark as a design element when there is no corresponding closing quotation mark.
But when it comes to code—in this case, Linux text commands—the result of this dubious design decision is an absolute catastrophe.
The problem, you see, is that Linux is case-sensitive. These commands need to be entered in lower case. Having gone through an HTML text-transform to upper case, they are now completely useless. They cannot be copied and pasted into a terminal.
Linux users who don’t understand the command-line interface will simply be baffled. Linux users who do understand it will either groan loudly and laboriously type each command, or paste the commands into a word processor and change the case, which is still far more effort than they should have to go through. (An even farther-out possibility is to find the code in the original HTML source for the page and copy it from there. Again, why should we have to bother?)
The simple moral is this: think about how your design decisions affect your readers. And be especially careful with code, or anything else that needs to be copied exactly. Don’t wreck it with clever formatting.