I was happily surfing the web one day looking for information on my home town, Northampton, when I stumbled upon a blog post about the state of public transport Northampton. That was a good read in itself as it brought back a few memories from my youth, but what actually caught my eye was another post on the same site about some inconsistencies about some online Yorkshire public transport information.
Service Seventy Shambles : Redux is a blog post about various problems the author had in finding some up to date information about a particular bus service in Yorkshire. Now, I realise that providing up to date content is really the domain of the people who actually maintain the site, but his comments about the “design” is what sprang out at me.
The author comments:
There was the old, WRONG, leaflet with the old WRONG information. No Sunday service, it said, when there is an hourly Sunday service. They had put the old timetable back. But at least the web site has lots of swirly bits; and that’s far more important.
Ok so someone has cocked up on the content front, but it looks like he’s blaming the designers for this mistake? He could be right, but only if the designer/agency is responsible for content. Being a local authority site the designers probably don’t manage the content, the local authority do.
When Tim Berners-Lee “invented” the internet, his vision was for a simple, robust means of accessing information. Web designers have taken over and now provide us with loads of swirly stuff, twiddly pictures and gorgeous graphics.
This is a totally valid point and something I’ve been banging on about for years. You don’t need a plethora of “swirly stuff” and “twiddly bits”, especially on an information site like this one. The impression of the writer is that the “design” has taken precedence over provision of accurate (and important) information. While some designers may disagree it’s a very important thing to note, web designers should always be thinking of the content and not some fancy effect they’re learnt to do in Photoshop.
Commentators complain in chorus when a web site doesn’t have lots of pretty “stuff”. Where once a web page was defined by a dozen lines of simple “HTML” code, we are now obliged to “enjoy” highly complex clutter which takes ages to appear on-screen and doesn’t always work on all systems. It also costs megabucks, paid for by the customer, of course!
More totally valid points, clearly his perception is spot on to some extent. Of course any “design” has to be visually pleasing, but it also has to function. The “commenter’s” he mentions are rarely the ones who end up using such sites, so comments like those rarely have any real value.
Meanwhile the actual information provided is less than satisfactory or just plain wrong because changes can only be made by some clever contractor who understands “design”!
Keep it simple, get it right and bin the twiddly bits!
As previously mentioned, I’d assume that it’s the local authority who are responsible for the sites content, not the designers. However, it’s a perception issue and inevitably the designers get the blame (rightly or wrongly).
Lessons for web designers
For an information site the content is always far far more important that how it “looks”. Yes there is a design aspect to a site like this but it’s not swirly graphics and fancy effects. The real design is in being able to present information in an easy to understand format with minimal distractions, something that can only be achieved with “content design” as opposed to “visual design” (read Photoshop) that is employed by many visual designers.