Simple is OK
Got a call from a buddy last week. He was not a happy camper. Seems he’d been recruited to maintain his son’s baseball team’s web site. He’s not a web or design guy, but the site is one of those subscription-based programs where the user is limited to a small pallet of backgrounds, modules, fonts and such. When the team first started using the site about three years ago, it looked pretty good. The parent in charge at the time had a design background and quickly realized the site’s limitations and he decided to keep it simple.
This kind of site is best used to keep up on team and league stats, schedules and maybe some brief game recaps and a few photos. It all worked nicely that first year.
Over the course of the next two years things changed. Two years and two more parents in charge of site maintenance and suddenly what had been a simple, easy to read and navigate site had become a a clusterf&%k of fonts and colors.
My friend’s description, “Dude, it looks like someone on acid puked their bad hallucinations onto the page”. Scary.
Besides the team colors (red and black), and the team logo (Cardinals), and the original serifed font (Times) that were used the first year, subsequent web maintainers had added various new colors like navy, yellow and orange (and various new shades of red). There were at least five new and different fonts and type size would vary from one article to the next. And who knew there were so many variations of cardinal logos. Besides the original team logo, there were now at least 3 other versions, with a couple of different ones appearing in the page header through some very bad Flash animation. And, holy crap, someone had added a somewhat risque hip-hop song that comes on at high volume when the site loads. Really? After listening to the song we both wondered what it had to do with 9 year-olds playing youth baseball. Nothing.
He needed some help and he needed it fast. This isn’t a corporate site, it’s not an entertainment site, it’s not an art blog; it should be a simple team site. Coaches, parents and relatives go there to see schedules, stats, and pictures. Those things should be easy to find and easy to look at. Now, I’m not a web designer, but I work with a number a very talented design folks. I think most would agree with these simple clean-up tasks. So I gave him a little clean-up task list. Clean up the crap, organize the flow, and get back to basics.
1. Lose all of the crazy colors. Stick with the team’s two colors and use them sparingly
2. Try to keep fonts down to one style for headlines and one style for body copy and maybe one additional for photo captions. Be consistent with font sizes.
3. Punt all of the logos from the site (and delete them from the image gallery) except the original team logo. Try to only use it in the page header, rather than in every single posting on every page
4. Organize the information logically. Put the game schedule, team record, and links to the practice calendar on the front page above the fold where folks can easily find them. Use the main body for important announcements and game recaps and photos
5. Lose the crazy diamond plate background. Compliment the content, don’t overpower it
6. Kill the music module completely. Think about the mom or dad in the office who just wanted to check the kid’s practice schedule for the week and suddenly – insert inappropriate hip-hop song here – is blasting from the office computer. Classy.
Last weekend he took the task list and went to town on the site. He’s still fidgeting with how to best use the team colors on the site (based on the site’s limited features), but it already looks 110% better. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a way to lock in formatting to keep next year’s volunteer webmaster from getting overly “creative” …
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