Commentary: Why your website is rubbish (unless it's designed around data)

Jane Finnis on The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 8/22/13

Two years ago, Culture24 started on a mission to transform the way the [UK] cultural sector looks at their digital output and to kickstart a dramatic shift in the way we plan, invest and collaborate on the development of both the current and the next generation of digital cultural activities. So has anything changed since we published the first Let's Get Real report in 2011? Are we getting any better at digital or is the pace of change just too fast? Is it possible to fix this attention share deficit or if we can't do big, can we do niche? We have been investigating these and other questions through Culture24's collaborative action research projects. Our research has shown that cultural organisations are all struggling to:

> Work out from the mass of analytics and data the difference between what is interesting and what is actually useful

> Find the right data to tell the right story, and to drive organisational change from within; to offer informed evidence to their leaders, and to reflect on what works and how to improve it

> Understand their constraints and how these contribute to failures. These might include a legacy of disconnected technical systems; internal politics; procurement procedures; or the lack of an agile, iterative approach to development

Failures are only failures if you don't know they are happening. If you are paying attention, they become learning opportunities. From Culture24's perspective there is still a long way to go but here are three tips we would like to advocate for -- and they're all simple, back-to-basic stuff that every cultural organisation can do now.


Commentary: Design elements that make your website look dated

Nancy Seeger, Arts Assistance blog, 8/13/13

The average person today sees so many websites daily they are unconsciously aware of what looks modern and what does not. We live in an age of sophisticated Internet users who can tell when a website looks old. When a website looks old, site visitors lose confidence and, worse, it looks unprofessional. Some of these are easy to replace if you have them:

  • Obvious black shadows. This is the era of flat design; those dramatic black shadows have been trending out for the last few years.
  • The rounded rectangle box for the entire content area. If you need to box it all in - drop the rounded corners.
  • Embossed and/or beveled buttons.
  • Black text. Retina screens, bright LED screens - black text on a white background is hard on the eyes. Use dark grey if you have a bright white background.
  • Using desktop fonts instead of web fonts. Verdana, Arial and Georgia on a site are readable but are definitely aging. Exception - email newsletters.
  • Flash video. Most mobile devices do not support this and will see a message to download Adobe Flash Player - ouch!
  • Desktop only site. If you need to pinch and expand to read a website on a phone, it is not mobile friendly. Responsive designed sites are viewable on most devices.
  • Outdated copyright date.
  • Red centered titles. The landing page fav technique of marketing gurus who didn't bother to talk to a usability expert. Red looks closer to olive for nearly 10% of the population. 

Related: Free tools to test your website for accessibility

Cindy Leonard on the Nonprofit Technology Network blog, 8/26/13

Does your nonprofit have an accessible website? As a starting point, try testing your site using these free tools:

> Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. Enter a website address and the tool will give you information on accessibility errors and warnings, displayed right near the corresponding element on the web page, along with information on correcting issues it finds.

> This site provides (very!) detailed analysis for color usage on a web page, including contrast ratio, brightness difference and color difference.

> Additionally, if you'd like a taste of what it's like to use screen reader software, like people with vision-related disabilities often do, open your organization's website using the free, browser-based screen reader tool WebAnywhere. It's can be a real eye-opener!

People generally associate the topic of web accessibility with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but I like to think of web accessibility as the practice of making websites with content, features and functionality that people of all abilities can access and use. There are many benefits to having a website programmed to accessibility standards, including:

> The site works in any browser and on any mobile device.

> Greater search engine visibility.

> Ability to easily update content or appearance without having to re-do the entire site.

> Faster access on low bandwidth or mobile devices.


Commentary: Incorporating "flat design" elements produces positive results

Drew McManus, Adaptistration blog, 8/27/13

On 7/23, [I] published an article about "Authentic Design," which examined the growing design shift away from stylistic excesses (such as using realistic page turn effects for digital pages) in favor of what is known as flat design. Since then, I've been looking for a way to incorporate flat design into Adaptistration, and I'm pleased to say the recent round of efforts have been producing positive results. The changes were put into place over the course of several days and released in four segments:

1. Updating social media icons to flat design and relocating from sidebar to header.

2. Replacing the footer widget promotional images.

3. Replacing the sidebar widgets images promoting the donation and weekly email summary subscription as well as the images used for the "As seen in..." section.

4. Updating the main navigation menu styling (via desktop/laptop browser widths) from a gradient to flat background color

Within a period of a few days, the changes were already producing positive results; metrics confirm improvements in conversion and/or usage for all flat design items. The two biggest changes were related to a sharp uptick in email subscriptions and coffee tip donations. Some common elements in each of the updates includes using less text, larger blocks of solid colors, and favoring simple icons over photo-realistic imagery. If nothing else, the results demonstrate the value in making regular small and incremental changes in lieu of sweeping site-wide comprehensive design updates once every few years (a topic we explored in a trio of articles from 2012). Granted, this approach is most effective if the underlying site framework, navigation architecture, and layout is solid and doesn't hamper user experience; without that firm foundation to build upon, you may not experience comparable results when undertaking similar efforts.
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