Design Fail

About 4 website generations ago, ie; circa 2006, there was a fashion in design of internet sites to disguise the website’s navigation in an image, with the navigation text only revealed on mouse over. A style named “Mystery Meat Navigation” by Vincent Flanders who has preserved some extreme examples on his aptly named “Web Pages That Suck” site.

It was bad, impossible to use from the user’s perspective, like having blank signs on the motorway. Thankfully the fashion died.

Well almost. It still turns up on particularly arty sites (bands and photographers apparently), and a ghost of that fashion came back to haunt me recently – a very small site, that provides mostly text-based information. Their home page was designed at great expense as an image, to be fair there were a few visual clues within the image, but it was only by mousing over that you could really “find” all the navigation. Once you clicked you were into a text-universe with no navigation – other than your browser’s back button.

I could have cried.

I tried to persuade the web-manager not to launch the site as is; to re-design the home page and sort out the navigation. I offered to help her figure it out.

She gave me two reasons for going ahead with the launch;

  1. They’d already spent a lot of money getting it designed and they didn’t have money to start over.
  2. Their manager liked it.

Both of those are incredibly bad reasons to proceed with a website launch when your precious new design is not user-friendly.

One of the key principles for designing usable websites is to tell people what they’re getting before they click. As Steve Krug points out in his utterly brilliant book “Don’t make me think”, we keep designing websites as if people read all the information, but people assess our website as if there were driving past a billboard at 100km/hr.

(I’m paraphrasing, I lent my copy of “Don’t make me think” to someone who obviously needs it – it’s never come back.)

Image Blank sign showing the old route of Hwy 55 into Downtown Mpls /Andrew Munsch/ CC BY-NC 2.0

Webby Awards

The winners of the Webby Awards 2009 have been announced. I like these awards, there are always some fascinating sites amongst the nominees. It’s always inspiring to see what others have created, and I like the fact that there’s a people’s award.

It’s also interesting to see which sites are long lasting appearing on the nominees list in consecutive years – generally in content categories – and which sites are new or new versions. (Actually it’s impossible to make this comparison, there seems to be a flaw on the Webby’s own site.)

One of the winners I particularly liked this year was WHITEvoid, for the navigation on their online portfolio website. Visually it alludes to filing drawers with folders flying out and revealing their contents. The whole array of folders moves in a 3D action, text is kept to a minimum and their work is displayed in images and video. It’s a stunning way to show off stunning conceptual art. I was entranced.