Category Archives: Usability

In part three, I continue my discussion of McCain and his ineffective use of the web. This is part three of six.

Excluding 50% of Americans
John McCain’s website does not have a ‘Students for McCain’ webpage. In fact, last Spring he had only three people group webpages: Lawyers, Women and Veterans for McCain. But still today, there’s no “Students for McCain” webpage. What gives? This would lead one to believe that McCain doesn’t value every voter, and only values his three favorite type of voters: Women voters, Veteran voters and Lawyer voters. Sure, these three groups are probably the most likely of any group to actually go to the polls and vote… but why exclude 50% Americans?

A Logical Approach with a Community-Driven Approach
Barack Obama didn’t exclude all non-women, non-veterans, and non-lawyers. He has webpages for many ethnicity’s, sexual orientations, and political parties. He also includes: People of Faith, Kids, Seniors, Small Business, Labor etc. Most important to my discussion is that he has a ‘Students for Obama’ webpage. This, combined with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter social networks is giving Obama a huge edge with getting young people’s attention. Within each page there are blog posts particularly relevant to that category. That is brilliant because now someone in that category can ‘comment’ and discuss issues with people like them. Building a community is central to Obama’s website; from his various blogs on people webpages to ‘MyBO’ where voters can get involved locally through events and more.

Shaping Up (kind of)
Sometime in the past few months (late Summer), McCain decided that he should have pages for more people than just women, lawyers and veterans. Maybe he finally realized that not everyone in American fit into those groups. I’m theorizing that he took a gander at Obama’s set of people groups and trimmed it down a little, leaving out many important people groups. Ironically some of the them being: LGBT and ‘Students for McCain’. He might not agree with LGBT voters or even Student voters but you got to at least try and reach out to them. He strangely added ‘Bikers for McCain’ (probably because Cindy McCain is a biker girl). He also has ‘Americans of Faith’ and thought it necessary to add ‘Catholics for McCain’ as if Catholics aren’t American with faith. He’s even got a news article on that page titled “Obama’s Catholic Problem.” Maybe Obama should put a news article up titled “McCain’s Young Vote Problem.”

He’s got people group pages, but their iss no community aspect.
These people group page on McCain’s website don’t offer community opportunities. For example, Catholics can’t interact with other Catholics for McCain while on the ‘Catholics for McCain’ webpage. So the result is saying: “See, I can write articles pay people to write articles about Obama’s Catholic problem and get pictures taken with Catholics”; instead of saying, “Here are some important issues to Catholics and a blog/comment section so you can discuss it with other Catholics.” The side columns to any people group webpage on McCain’s website offer non-related items, while Obama’s side columns offer some people group specific steps that can be taken along with non-related items.

In part four, I take a look at the recent website redesign by John McCain and compare it to his previously all black website.

In part one, I introduce the dilemma McCain has in effectively reaching young people on the web. This is part one of six.

As a designer I’ve constantly looked at the candidate websites and tried to imagine how people of different age groups would react and interact with them. These next six blog posts will be a culmination of this research and thought process.

John McCain’s age is not helping him reach young voters. An ineffective (or not as effective) use of his campaign website is hurting him in this area. Simple things such as branding, color scheme and number of times photographs of him are used on a single web page all drastically effect a person’s impression of him as a candidate. McCain’s brand: a militaristic star (seen on the right), is not a good choice in a time when more than half Americans aren’t happy about the wars we are in. McCain’s color scheme last Spring was black, and a little bit of blue. This just enhanced the idea that McCain would be the oldest person to be president if elected. Black, to me, symbolizes death, not ‘Country First’. His biography once had over 10 photos of him. 10 reminders of his age – all were in black and white. He also hasn’t embraced social networking. This could be done easily by making his campaign website a central hub for connecting with him through various social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc. Although, I believe he has recently adopted this concept. Good for him.

On the flip side, Barack Obama’s age and central theme is helping him. An effective use of his website is helping him in this area. Obama’s not even THAT young, so it can’t be solely because he is younger. Ron Paul was the second oldest candidate during the primaries and was generating more online buzz than Obama or McCain (for a small period of time). The creative typography, effective circle logo (seen on the right), colors, and key concepts of hope and change have really catapulted Obama. The design of everything involved with his campaign is great. The circle logo is reminiscent of the Midwest. It might be that the first time I saw his logo was on a sign placed in a corn field in Iowa, so I always think that the logo represents a corn field and sunset. The strong themes of hope and change have done well for him, especially with McCain’s lack of theme.

I spent the Spring of 2008 studying campaign websites of all 20 or so candidates from both sides for my Advertising course. I started the project simply researching and finding something I could zone in on. What became apparent was that many of the candidates weren’t attracting the same buzz online as Barack Obama and Ron Paul were. Ron Paul has sense fallen off the face of the earth while spewing the same phrase, “It’s all about the value of the dollar declining.” Obama’s success online and overall has continued throughout the whole campaign. This is apparent in the over 1 million facebook friends Obama had versus his next highest opponent who was Ron Paul at the time, with half as many friends. I forsaw McCain being the Republican candidate, so I wanted my class project to focus on generating online buzz for McCain – I know, it was a tall task. McCain never did and still doesn’t have a ‘Students for McCain’ website, while Obama does.

In part two I will look at exactly what is hurting McCain and his online presence.

I don’t know too much about logo design, since I focus most of my time with magazine design and web design, although I will try to list some things I’ve learned.

Effective Logos…

  • …are distinctive
  • …are visible
  • …are usable
  • …are memorable
  • …are universal
  • …are durable
  • …are timeless
  • …do not sell, only identifies.
  • …derives its meaning from the quality of what it symbolizes

Here are a two of my more successful logos. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on branding/logo design. Leave me a comment!


That title isn’t meant to be sarcastic either. I love that the design of Obama’s latest podium front has made the news. Finally, political campaigns are setting a standard in the design world, instead of being the worst of the worst when it comes to design. Obama’s website is the best designed, most standards-compliant and user friendly of any presidential candidate’s website in history (the last two elections). His overall brand is also a cut-above. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that obama’s circle logo resembles a corn field and sunset. Afterall, he did start this campaign in Iowa, the corn state… where he won big. The first time I saw the Obama circle logo was on a large yard sign in Iowa City and directly behind the sign were corn fields.. very interesting.

I think it’s hilarious that people are getting worked up about great marketing and design. We also got worked up about McCain’s lack of great design and color choice – the use of a green backdrop. One design choice was well made and one wasn’t.

The Obama seal is a clever way to brand Obama as a presidential candidate. There were no copyright laws broken. If you look closely, the eagle’s are totally different renderings, the colors and font choices are different. It also doesn’t say “President of the United States”, It says “Obama FOR President”. The repetitive stars also weren’t used from the presidential seal… that’s more than can be said about McCain’s website and its overuse of stars. I think Obama’s designers need to be hired to redesign the white house website, government websites and heck why not the presidential seal. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with beautifull design in a political campaign.

McCain seems to have taken notice of how awesome Obama’s website design was and revamped his whole website a few months ago… before then he had no direct links to his social networking profiles (bad choice to leave this out – maybe that’s why mccain has 9 times fewer facebook supporters than obama who has over a million) I spent the semester researching the presidential candidate’s websites and how to reach young voters with them. I focused on McCain and getting him the young vote through a “students for mccain” website. 

Lastly, I think Obama’s website and overall branding resembles who he is: hopeful, ready for change, different than usual. His website resembles these phrases through his color scheme (not typical red/white/blue), spotlight effect with white highlights around the edge of the page and around photos of people, great typography and attention to detail with his pages for states and people groups (he uses imagery specific to each state and people group). His logo area of the website is very clever – using a photo of him looking up, in a hopeful manner.

What are your thoughts?

I’ve got website projects in all stages of production. A recent website project for Truman Media Network (TMN) is being programmed right now http://transfer20.truman.edu. My goal for TMN was to make it very accessable to visitors. I took many cues from CNNs website.  Also this was a test in “making a website with an existing logo that isn’t very well designed” The best thing to do is to use much whitespace around the logo and let it stand for itself, and don’t try to hide it with texture background or large graphics near it.

My two websites for my portfolio are now done. The two clients I decided on were a church in st. louis and a blues guitarist The audience for each is drastically different, and I hope the design depicts this. There’s also a mini-site for the church for their three week message series titled “Questions” With the blues guitarist I tried making it distinctly different from another guitarist website I made.

I’ve got another freelance client that wants a website, logo, brochure, banner for their drug prevention coalition, Putnam County Partners in Prevention. This will have to wait until after finals week in order to start brainstorming.

Meadow Heights also needs a website redesign, which I need to get done with… Why do I never have enough time for everything? haha

Today I presented in Advertising about a proposed “Students for McCain” website that Anshu (group partner) and I felt was needed for McCain. The website is here. I suggest watching the videos, especially the one about everything that is younger than McCain, such as the golden gate bridge, velcro, mcdonalds… and on and on. Get this, Dick Cheney is even younger than McCain.

Another website/poster campaign that just went live is for “Information Security Awareness” This has been a semester long project to create posters and the website.

In about a week I will be moved in near Des Moines, preparing for my first day of work at August Home!!! SO EXCITED.

  1. Websites should look pretty and that’s all that matters.
    They should be well designed, but from a usability standpoint. It’s not a magazine ad, where the audience just looks at and reads it. Think about how the user will navigate through the site, their Internet speed, browser support, search engine optimization.
  2. I don’t know HTML so I’ll just use Flash to build my website.
    If it was 1999, maybe this would fly, but not today. Building websites purely in Flash is a misuse of Flash and an alienation of web useres. Flash is a motion graphics program, not a website editing program. Flash is meant to enhance  well programmed and designed websites. You will alienate visitors because they won’t find your website in the search engines. What about your grandma? She might not have the newest browser or Flash player which will allow her to view your website.
  3. I’ll welcome my visitors to my website with a “click here to enter” page. (see the screenshot)
    This is usually only done with Flash websites, but this is the silliest thing someone can do. By typing your web address in, it is a sign that they already wanted to “enter” your website. Keep the front door open and let them land right there in your living room, aka: your full homepage. Even if this page is only here so users know they need flash player to view the website, they most likely not going to take extra time to get the flash player just to view your website, unless it’s your very devoted mom.
  4. I’m using tables to lay out my website, because I just don’t get this new fandangled CSS thing.
    The Internt began as a way to present and transfer content in purely text format, with no layout needed or required. Tables were added shortly after so that tables of data could be displayed. Then someone decided that they could use a table to design their whole website. They even began nesting tables inside one another to create their complex web designs. Tables are to be used for “tables” of data, and CSS should be used for the layout and styling of a website . Cascading Style Sheets separate the design from the content. This means that when you want to redesign your website in a year, it will only take a few minutes. For example, I recently changed color schemes on my approx. 50 page portfolio website and it took about 10 minutes. If I was using tables, I would have had to open each of my 50 pages and change colors manually. I admit, in high school I learned to use tables, and it took 6 years to make the switch, and what a change it has been.
  5. Image maps are the best thing ever! I can create a website in seconds!
    What about visitors to your website who are disabled and use a screen reader? When they visit a well programmed website, the contents of the website is read to them out loud by special software. If your website is primarily image-based or even Flash, then all the disabled visitor will hear is silence. You can also alienate your visitors with dial-up Internet, because they will wait many times longer for your website to load. I will admit I’ve used image maps. Just check out http://www.sargent-construction.com The whole circle motif is an image.
  6. I just make my paragraphs of text images so that the user will see exactly what I want them to, in the correct font, size, and color.
    It is true that the user might see a different font or size if you use real text, but that’s part of the beauty of the web. The user can decide, via their choice of screen resolution, font size, etc how they view your website. By making your text an image, you take that right away from the user, while also blocking that content from search engines and slowing the load time of dial-up users.

These ideas are ones I’ve spent eight years learning. I’ve made all these mistakes at one time or another, either for my convenience or because I truly had no idea what I was doing. The biggest idea above that can actually be a good thing to do would be ‘all flash’ website. For product promotions and mini-sites, it is definitely appropriate to use primarily flash, because you want to sell the product with a “flashy” design… Pun intended But if you are creating a corporate website, or even a band website, think about search engine optimization, usability, functionality etc.

The era of ‘pretty websites’ has passed. People now demand more usability, interactivity and functionality. If you can create a well designed website that is usable, functional and interactive, then you’ve figured something out.

 

As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.

As photojournalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its images as a matter of historical record. It is clear that the emerging electronic technologies provide new challenges to the integrity of photographic images … in light of this, we the National Press Photographers Association, reaffirm the basis of our ethics: Accurate representation is the benchmark of our profession. We believe photojournalistic guidelines for fair and accurate reporting should be the criteria for judging what may be done electronically to a photograph. Altering the editorial content … is a breach of the ethical standards recognized by the NPPA.

This is the center of the debate. I agree, designers, photographers and journalists shouldn’t add or take things away from a photo that will change the “integrity” of the photo. If you take out a person or a building or even add a person or building, that shouldn’t be done if the photo is being published in a newspaper or magazine. But what if you have a photo of a person with the background cutout and the photographer decided to take a photo with the half of one of the shoes cropped off. Does the designer whip out the graphics tablet and open up Illustrator and paint in the tip of the shoe, to complete the photo? I would say, yes, you should, especially if you are cutting out the background and there would be an awkward cropped foot floating in the middle of the page.

This exact thing happened this week in the Index (see this pdf). They published a photo that had the background cutout of a person’s foot but it was cropped off. It looked horrible and very incomplete. As a designer I saw laziness on behalf of the photographer and designer. But it wasn’t laziness, it simply was due to their ‘ethical’ restrictions. So, after looking at the PDF I realize they DID manipulate the photo, they placed a cutout photo on top of the rectangular photo with big fatty white drop shadow. Don’t believe me, check out this photo. They cutout this photo and placed it on another photo, to look like the person was in a different photo. Now if this isn’t changing the integrity of a photo, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s unethical to also to publish recipes that are correct (see the Instructions section of the currey rice recipe where they call for chocolate chips and walnuts).

If it’s unethical to enhance photos without changing the meaning or integrity of the photo, then I’ll never work for a newspaper. I agree that we shouldn’t add or delete major aspects of a photo, but simply finishing the job of the lazy photographer I think is justified.

The other thing is that the photos a designer chooses should be ones he can successfully implement into his design. If we, as designers aren’t allowed to make photos look great through color correcting, levels, cropping and slight enhancements, then we shouldn’t use a photo. Maybe we’ll make the writer mad by using only typography or simply find another job, one that allows for creativity.

I heard someone in our discussion say that newspapers shouldn’t look pretty, they should just convey information.

Yeah. Right.

If the paper didn’t look pretty, no one would pick it up besides the newspaper staff who wrote it. Designers also make things functional and usable, not just pretty.  Think about posters, you don’t even look at the ugly ones, you are drawn to the readable, functional, beautiful ones.

My final thoughts: I believe editing photos in order to create the best image for the specific layout or story is what we should do, not follow an ambiguous rules, that don’t keep design in mind. Why can’t the newspaper designers have a code of ethics that begins with “As designers, we believe that….” ?

Check back with me in 5 years, I guarantee I won’t be working for a newspaper.

Latest Projects
I recently worked on a very cool Flash project for Truman State University’s new website redesign. They wanted to have a photo slideshow on the homepage that could be dynamically created through a web form. Basically anyone can upload a photo, a caption and a link to the website/story corresponding to the headline/photo. When this form is submitted, the slideshow will automatically include the photo with caption/link

The project is here

I am by no means a programmer, but I work with another student who is. He did most of the programming and I did the Flash aspect of it. If you were to look at my Flash file you would see nothing on the “Stage” because everything was done with Actionscript, Flash’s scripting language. Strangly, Actionscript is very similar to Javascript.

Here’s a breakdown of what we had to use/implement:

  • Flash Actionscript which creates dynamic movie clips.. including code that would set a drop shadow, embed the correct font and set the placement of the text on the photo
  • A corresponding XML file that Flash pulls info from… this file also specifies the length of each slide, and how slow the fading occurs
  • An ASP email form/upload script which dynamically creates an XML file by first storing the data in a database

This is truly what Flash is meant to do. It isn’t meant to make meaningless welcome pages. The next generation of Flash is to incorporate ASP, PHP, Databases with it. No more of these pointless animations and all-flash websites.