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You Know Where You Are.. but can your web visitors tell?

I am guilty of this as much as the next person– in working on a web design project, or any project for that matter, you can get so close to the details and the content that you easily miss minor but important details.

Huh?

For many years (6? 8?) we have maintained a web site with a searchable collection of community colleges (do not bark, the frames are going away soon!)- basically anyone on the net can submit a community college site that we are missing, or notify us of a change. We have a basic back end system for taking the inputs and reviewing them before adding them to the site (to verify content).

Anyhow, on a surprisingly more than a few number of colllege web sies, the very first page you see “Welcome to Big Valley Community College” and everybody in the Big Valley area knows that the college is located right in the middle of Central City, in the state of Prosperity…. but no where on the front page of this college’s web site does it state this! In fact, for one college recently checked, it took at least two more clicks through menu screens “About the College” — “College Location” to finally get the city and state. Sure this information is engrained to those in the Big Valley metro area, but your web audience is quite a bit larger than that (or you dream so).

This is pretty basic, but underlies the basic web designer’s dilemma- not really knowing at all their visiting audience, who may arrive, peruse the site, and leave without you ever really seeing or knowing they are there. They may leave tiny footprints in the web server log, but are pretty much invisible.

It goes along with some Jakob-ian simple notion of having that concise 1-2 sentence statement of what a web site is right on the fron page, rather than three clicks deep under “Mission” statements. I see this alot. I should not have to dig past a front page to figure out a site; if I have to, then the site fails.

Bottom line, it would take utterly little trivial effort for Big Valley Community College to add a small text tag line below that stunning graphic of students using wireless laptops out in the quad to say:

“1234 Main St, Central City, PR 098765”

I have deliberately not chosen a real example, but will pick on my own system- the main web site for our 10 college system, the largest system in the US, is an honest web designer’s embarassment, and I have seen better work by middle school bloggers- it trots out our college’s names, all linked to college sites, that has no meaning at all to anyone not familiar with the local community names. Not to mentione a complete lack of dynamic content, any portal-like features….. well I could go on and on, but if I do someone might make me responsible (I am not).

Well this post has gone completely off the rails.

Bottom line: Web sites need to be easily understood without assumed reference to local contexts, and designers are way too close to that context to look at it freshly.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.