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Recently I published an article about the California Recall campaign web sites. With the Ontario election so close it only made sense to write an article about the main campaign sites in my own backyard too. It will be too late for these sites to make changes before the October 2nd election. The campaign managers for the 2004 federal elections however can prevent some of the pitfalls that I came across when visiting the Ontario campaign sites.
You can benefit from this article too. Some of the observations may very well apply to your own situation. How usable is your web site?
The main conclusion when you compare the Ontario campaign sites to those in California: many of the problems are of a similar nature, and can easily be prevented. So what are some of examples within the sites that are screaming for help?
Ontario PC Party (OPC) (www.ontariopc.com)
About 45% of Internet users have their screen set at 800 pixels wide. For all those people the link at the top right of the homepage will say "About Our S". Unfortunately the chosen design-technique doesn't allow visitors to scroll the (fixed) top and left-hand side of the site. I need to change my screen resolution to a larger width to see that it says "About Our Site".
The technique mentioned in the above paragraph is
called "frames". Frames can cause many problems, but there is one
more that I want to share in this article. Choosing the option "Show
your support" will expand the left-hand navigation, forcing the frame
window to create two scrollbars: a vertical one and a horizontal one.
This means that on pages like "donations" the screen shows three scrollbars:
two vertical ones, and a horizontal one. And most users hate to
scroll if it's not absolutely necessary.
Just a few other usability issues:
Everything in Eves' campaign is about "Dalton: still not up to the job". The Dalton-bashing is in TV ads and Ernie Eves' keynotes. It's also all over the web site. The homepage even has a popup screen with this campaign statement. And that while popups are considered to be one of the most annoying Internet features.
And if you want to vilify someone, do it right. I noticed Daltons last name misspelled on the homepage: it's McGuinty, not McGunity!
Ontario Liberals (OLP) (www.choosechange.ca)
The choosechange.ca homepage communicates Dalton's views clearly, and is frequently updated. There is a prominent link to French pages: "Franšais". So there is nothing wrong with this site?
Navigation through the site could be much more intuitive. The links in the main navigation are shown as faint white letters on a red background, and are hard to read. Blurry text in many images, like "the OLP plan", also strains the eye. Hyperlinks in the content are red, and not underlined. But not all that's red is a hyperlink: the (sub) titles for instance are not to click on.
For all us busy bees it's nice to see that the TV
ads we may have missed on television are available on this web site.
Based on the fact that TV ads' titles are red
you would expect to be able to click on them. But we need to click
on one of the two black "connection
speed "options. The red "issues"
just below the TV ads are clickable, by the way. Navigating
the site would be a lot easier with more consistent color-coding.
New Democratic Party (NDP) (www.publicpower.ca)
The page width is not the only thing that changes from page to page. The contact information is very hard to find: it's all the way at the bottom of the page in tiny print. And it's not even on all pages.
The navigation also changes from page to page. The inner pages have more choices than the homepage. It's a pity that this variety is not provided on the homepage: the most visited page of a site!
The lack of consistency within the site could implicitly damage the perception that people have about the organization behind the site: the NDP party and its leader.
French pages are provided. Unfortunately the homepage shows two different links: "site en Franšais" and the wordy"cliquez ici pour le site en Franšais". This is rather confusing, and just a "Francais" would be easier to scan. Both links by the way lead to a different site: www.pouvoir.ca. And for some reason this site doesn't have a link back saying "En Anglais". It's good to have a back button.
The design of the publicpower.ca site is rather loud. It uses black letters on an almost entirely orange background. This starts to irritate the eyes after a while. And maybe it's because I'm not 20 anymore, but I have a hard time reading the tiny faint letters in the navigation, especially when I enlarge my screen to the intended 1024 pixel-wide screen resolution.
It is not all bad about this site. The layout and
navigation are clearly designed for this medium, where users scan
the pages rather than reading them. The other two web sites are much
less scannable. The site also loads fairly quickly.
There are many more improvements to recommend for these sites. I hope that my critique shows you that details can make a huge difference in a web site visitor's user-experience. I sometimes compare a web site to a driver's license: every time a web site does something wrong/annoying in the eyes of the user, it gets demerit points. If visitors can't find what they're looking for fast enough, the site receives demerit points. Some offenses are punished more heavily than others. And when you annoy the user too much (i.e. the site gets too many demerit points) it's all over. Visitors will leave, and they may not even be able to pinpoint why exactly: often the frustration built slowly but steadily.
They will have left without doing what the site owner wants them to do: contacting them, buying from them or signing up for their newsletter. Or in this case: deciding to vote for them.
Nardo Kuitert is a Web Site Optimizer with UsabilityReviews.com, a service provided by Ontario Web Site Optimization firm U-C WEBS. U-C WEBS helps web designers creating user-friendly web sites, and reviews existing web sites of organizations large and small. This article is based on quick and dirty reviews of the web sites mentioned. U-C WEBS also offers more in-depth expert reviews like the Homepage ScorecardT, consisting of 112-point inspections.
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