Design Fail

Highway Sign with no town name

If highway signs didn’t give you information until you were really close to them – they’d behave like mystery meat navigation.

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. 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

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2 thoughts on “Design Fail

  1. Unbelievable, considering users only have about 4-8 seconds to make up their mind about the website it’s vital to give them what they want or at least an indication of being in the right place on the web. Businesses like this should really get advice before delving in to their online presence, bad design and bad usability does our industry zero favours!

  2. Agree! I was the “expert advice” – but asking for that advice right before a launch is crazy, usability needs to built into the design much earlier. It’s so incredibly frustrating because it’s just not going to win any new visitors for them…. let’s see how long it lasts.

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