Issues in union web design

From failure comes wisdom... we hope

Chris Lawson

PSAC National

Workshop Introductions

Workshop outline

Expectations and limitations

Please note: what I am about to say I say with love. It comes from a place deep inside my heart that wants every union - with the exception of CLAC - to succeed. It is a place of tremendous passion which is why perhaps it when it comes out of my mouth it might sound a bit like disappointment or even snarkiness.

But it comes from a place of love. Swearsies. - how could one website with such a huge budget and such a big impressive design development company completely screw things up?

I honestly don't know. But for the next 90 minutes we're going to do everything we can to fix it.

Their main problem? The inability to grasp the notion that less is more.

And a diagnosable addiction to carousels and moving things.

This actually strikes me as the website that everyone argues about but no one actually looks at or uses. How could they? Fifteen seconds later I have a headache and need to lie down.

The before

The Before

Yes, it looks pretty impressive. Because it's using relatively high production values and there are no apparent errors.

It's got background textures, drop shadows and a bunch of other stuff to make it say 'expensive'.

There is clearly a lot going on. And yet the viewer's eyes cannot get a handle on any of it.

Admittedly the problems with this site go beyond design. There are serious information architecture and navigation issues.

Today we're going to deal exclusively with design. And only with the front page.

Do what others do

One thing 'others' always do is put their search form top right of the page. So let's do that, shall we?

Respect nature

In nature, light colours have light hues. Dark colours have dark hues. Here amid the official USW colour palette, they reject nature in many places. The Steelworker yellow has a darker hue than the Steelworker blue. That's wrong. It makes that kind of stobing effect you're witnessing now, when the colours are put together.

When in doubt, leave it out

The whole tagline "Unity and strength for workers" thing has gone out of vogue so let's chuck it for now, yes?

The tabs in the left side content box: news, statements, publications: why are they there? What value does it add to the user experience to know that item X is a bit of news, where item Y is a statement?

That map. Is it location-aware? No. So why is it a map? And if the wood council is also a division, where is it on the map? The map seems to be almost entirely decorative. What if you left it out?

What about that picture of Ken Neumann? First up, it's been re-proportioned in Photoshop and it looks like hell. What is it doing there? The quote is about education but if you click on it it's a link to the 'who we are' page. It has no clear purpose. What is it doing there?

What about that picture of the web page? Look at all the clutter it adds. A whole whack of words that looks as good as Facebook does on the web, but shrunk to be unrecognizably small and embedded into another web page.

No need to shout

All those rotating carousels are deadly deadly deadly. I understand why they have them. Really I do. Lots of competing priorities. But viewers have a heck of a time focusing on that page because of three non-stop animating content sliders.

Neat, near and tidy

Adding to the visual cacophony on the page is the fact that it doesn't really use a page-wide grid per se.

Particularly messy are the centre content blocks which kinda go all over the place, not really aligning with any elements above or below them. Why is one across two columns and the other across only one.

This example is far from the worst I've seen but it's still a failing you wouldn't expect in a big budget redesign when the resources to fix it are so easily available.

Less is more

Hey - do you think USW is on Facebook? They tell you they are not one, not two not three but five times. And each time it's simply a link to their page. There's no deeper integration, nothing.

I don't blame them. I know how these conversations go. The social media person - all newly charged up about their new mandate goes to the website person and says "people don't realize we're on facebook."

The web person says, "we've got a button."

The social media person says, "people can't see it. Or they scroll past. We'd better build a bigger button.

And so it goes.

Their top nav is reproduced in its entirety in the bottom nav.

Does their main carousel really need the itty bitty thumbnails competing with the main images? Or would a lower profile navigation work better and be less confusing. To ask the question is to answer it, I tell you.

If we dropped the decorative map and the lossy, squished picture of Ken Neumann we would have a ton more room to let elements on the page breathe. This in turn would alow vistiors to perceive more of the content.

With only one (smaller, discretely placed Facebook page link there would be more space to let out the content that's there or bring more content to the surace.

I went digging into the website to see what all they have on it and it's quite amazing.

They offer their local leaders a CRM for managing membership information.

They offer their local communicators free website hosting.

They do all this economic policy research

They run a summer camp for kids for crying out loud.

And you would never know it by looking at their front page because they need to tell you (five times no less) that they're on Facebook.

Further reading and resources