Over vs. Under Design

by on April 22, 2009

I strategically chose the name of my business as blue collar design because I wanted to communicate that my focus was design that worked, not just some pie in the sky design for design’s sake. Initially I started this as a side business, wanting to do some web design. That urge has long passed, but the name has served me well in my primary line of business which is instructional design and delivery. Now the tag line is “Instructional Design and Delivery that works”.

Now I want to make clear upfront, I am not a graphic designer, but I am a fan. I make the distinction as this: I think I can tell good vs. bad, I just can’t tell you why, or how to fix it. Recently, I was reminded of my original meaning behind the name when when someone I follow tweeted a web site that is way over the top. I had also come by a recent article in defense of flair, so this post discusses striking the balance.

Over Design

The site that really got my attention was for Evangel Cathedral. Wait, don’t click yet. Be sure to mute or turn down your sound. It is a Visual and Acoustic assault on the casual browser. I cannot think of a better example of the adage “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.”

First off, we get the ever-pointless splash screen. Good idea, get between your audience and the message. Then we get a loud and obnoxious soundtrack. Seriously, if you are not a band, I don’t want to hear music.

Now for some folks, they will stop at “got my attention” and confidently declare mission accomplished. However, I approach web sites as sources of information. If you can stomach it, approach the site like someone looking for information. How long does it take you to find out their service times? Where are they located? They are, imho, a particularly bad example of a very common mistake. It’s form drowning out content.

Restaurants can be bad about that as well. A Cincinnati restaurant called Nada has this in spades. I go to the site, then I have to get past a splash screen, then I get loud obnoxious music. They add, however, another peeve. Menus as downloadable PDFs. So, curious of the menu? Here we go:

  1. Enter web address for Nada.
  2. Pick Nada from the splash screen.
  3. Desperately look for the audio controls to turn off the music.
  4. Click on Menus
  5. Download the PDF.
  6. Read PDF (IF you already have the reader installed, most do, but not all).

Honestly, unless I am really motivated, I stop around step 2 or 3.

Yes, I am not a web designer. I am a consumer of web pages. I actually think that makes me more qualified to judge the usability of a design.

Under Design

However, I do not want to make you think I am a Luddite. I am not pining for the days where we all used Lynx to cruise the nascent web in text only. I just would like to see designers put thought into making their design support the communication of information, not crowd it out. It is always important to remember that you do need to add some flair. A little flash and sizzle is good. Here is a great article from A List Apart called In Defense of Eye Candy.

I don’t want all the web sites to look like Google, iGoogle or Yahoo. I like interesting design. Just make the design ft the purpose of your site. Good examples, imo, are photographer Michael Wilson’s site and David Sheldon Productions site. The navigation is quirky, but the purpose is to showcase their work and they do it well. The same design aesthetic for a restaurant would suck out loud. Just to be clear, I am a fan of Wilson and Sheldon’s works, and actually am fortunate enough to know David, so I am not pretending to be objective there.

So what are your thoughts? Are there sites you especially like/dislike?

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