Tag Archives: rant/rave

Writing Process and Rant/Rave: The “Basic” Website

4 Jan

So now that the demographics half of the report is fully drafted, I can move on to drafting the analysis of the website.  Which presents its own challenges.  (Yes, challenges – not a euphemism for “headaches”.)

When I’m writing a report, I typically need to use the most direct and graphic language on the first draft.  All the details need to come out, in often excruciating detail.  This is doubly true when the report, like this one, does something I’ve never done before, because injecting tact at the beginning muddies my thinking.  It’s time-consuming to write and trim so much, but so far it works better than to outline and try to hit bullet points.  So dumping out my thoughts about this website is the first step in an inevitable process.

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The problem with critiquing the website is that there’s nothing wrong with it.  It’s handsome, it includes working links to everything the clients want to offer the public, and it loads fast on every browser.  But as a user experience designer, or even a user who’s played around with it a bit, it doesn’t perform its function.  How do you a tell a perfectly nice client that just had their website revamped by a probably (paid) web designer and is evidently happy with the new look, that it doesn’t work?

I consider this a problem of the times, the fact that we’re still in the early days of the Internet.  Several years ago, big companies started having websites and this year we seem to have crested the wave started by LinkedIn and Google+ profiles.  To be someone, to be up-to-date and savvy and competitive, you has to have a website.  But there’s not a lot of thought about what it does and how it attracts consumers. And this is what upsets me about the “basic” website: pretty graphics and all of the expected elements (name, CV, portfolio, contact information), but no thought about how they’re put together.

Big companies needed sites for two big reasons: disseminating information (databases) and selling products (stores).  Their consumers are largely searching for them directly: you want a Dell computer, go to Dell.com.  But if you’re an individual or a small company, particularly one in an industry with tons of alternatives like entertainment, consumer don’t find you by searching, but by stumbling.  Your website is your flying shingle, a hand in the air saying that you exist and “Ooo, ooo, pick me!”  If a consumer finds you, your site’s front page has under five  seconds to convince them to probe further.  Dell.com does not need ease-of-use at every step to convince its users to stay.

My dear clients’ website is lacking in every basic usability affordance.  The front page is cut in half by a normal web browser, and it’s designed so that you need to look at both halves to make the content function.  Links look like graphics.  Graphics look like links.  Text (a catchphrase that appears nowhere else in the series or the site) is turned into a graphic  that looks like the only clickable link.  The most important material is tiny, and the minutiae is huge, and in one place the Most Important Thing is visually linked to two bits of minutiae in order to balance the composition.  The contact information is written out (so spammers can grab it), but it’s also a link, so you don’t know whether to copy and paste it or click it.  Basically, you go to the site, it looks pretty, but then you have no damn clue, as a new user, how to interact with it.  And even looking at it, there’s no way to positively state what product it’s advertising.

People pay other people to do the things they maybe could do but can’t be bothered with, so it doesn’t really surprise me that the clients skimmed over the page, said “Looks great!” and went on with what they want and need to do, which is make a fantastic series.  And at this point I make my living in other ways, so it doesn’t make me angry that the demand for graphic web designers is so high that not all of them will bother to make sure their work functions as well as fits.  But it kills me to have to state the obvious: your beautiful new site doesn’t work.  It wasted money.  What good is a shingle if you can’t open the door?