An Open Space Reading List
Lessons from Starbucks

Does Your Web Site Suck?

Sometimes we learn more from what's wrong, than from what's right. That's why Vince Flanders of Web Pages that Suck has been dissing businesses and nonprofit websites for years. Rightfully so if you check out his Biggest Mistakes in Web Design: 1995-2015, an article he recently revised when he realized that the Mistakes of 2004 (when he originally wrote it) were doomed to be repeated.

For those of you who want me to cut to the chase, here's Vince's one-sentence description of all major site design problems:

Visitors to your web site don't care about you and your web site and they don't want design elements that get in their way, especially Mystery Meat Navigation, too much material on the page (although sometimes they do), they don't want you misusing Flash or using FrontPage, but they want to be able to figure out what your site's about, how to navigate through it, they want Heroin content, they want text and graphics used correctly and they don't really care about your marketing plans, your use of Web Standards, Usability and tableless CSS as long as you clearly and quickly point out how they can get what they want.

That's too much crammed into one sentence for me. So here are some of my favorites that bear repeating:

Believing that People Care About You and Your Site
Not that they don't care, but as Vince points out, most visitors are really most interested in how you can help THEM.

Nobody cares about you or your site. Really. What visitors care about is solving their problems. Most people visit a web site to solve one or more of these three problems.

  1. They want/need information
  2. They want/need to make a purchase / donation.
  3. They want/need to be entertained.

If your site doesn't help them do one or more of these things quickly, then you're done.

Site Design That Gets in the Way of Visitors
If you use design elements--Flash, too much or too little text, poor navigation, etc.--that get in the way of customers solving their problems (see Mistake Number 1 above), then you have a problem. Your goal is to have a site that makes it easy for visitors to find what they need and to accomplish what they came for. You don't want them to have a hard time giving you a donation, do you? 

Site Lacks "Heroin Content"
You can get away with a lot of design flaws if the CONTENT of your site is so compelling it keeps people coming back for more. That means content that changes frequently, that is powerful and engaging, and that provides people with information and/or entertainment. Vince has some great questions to ask yourself about content in this section that you shouldn't miss.

Misunderstanding Graphics
Animated gifs, ugly background graphics, poor quality or inappropriate graphics--all make the list. A picture's worth a thousand words, but not if it sucks.

There's a ton of great advice in this article that can help you plan for that site design or re-design. You might also want to check out these "Sites that Suck" to make sure you're not making some of the mistakes he's talking about.

Going from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0
While you're improving your site, you might also want to look at whether or not you've really moved into the Web 2.0 world of site design. Users now expect your site to include interactive elements and the ability to talk about and do things with your information. Make sure that you're meeting these expectations. But if you are going to go Web 2.0, you also need to make sure that you bring your organization along, too.


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