truth in satire: how to make an unusable web site.

Over the centuries, writers have demonstrated you can tell more truth with satire than non-fiction. So when I recently had an opportunity to do a fake presentation for FakeHEWeb09, a satirical non-event for those unable to attend this year’s real HEWeb09, I picked the topic of Web Site Unusability. And in the process, came up with an all-too-real formula of how NOT to make a user-friendly Web site.

I scrawled the presentation in about 5 minutes and gave it via Twitter. The key points included:

* Welcome to the session on Web Site Unusability! Click here to continue!
* Web sites are all about you! Users are overrated.

* Who should your Web site please? Look in the mirror. That guy! (Or girl!)

Multimedia inconsiderations:
* Always use an animated musical splash page people have to sit through. Preferably on an old version of Flash.

* A splash page says: “Wanna attend our college? Then you’ll have to sit through crappy gif animation and music composed on a Casio keyboard!”
* Seek a CMS that’s as hard to update as possible so your minions won’t use it. Don’t they have better things to do?
* Put all important information in pdfs. Again, make people *really want* your information!

* In addition to pdfs, inaccessible/slow-loading videos are a great way to share critical information.

Putting users last:
* Use your organizational chart as your guide for Web architecture. Who cares if it makes no sense to rest of the world?
* When writing for the Web, use as much dense academic jargon and obscure acronyms as possible.
* If prospects easily find what they want in 2 clicks, you’ve failed. You want more hits. Go work in sales.
* Make sure no two department pages look alike in colors, structure, organization, navigation, anything.
* Actually, why bother even putting the name of your college on your pages? You know where you work! Good enough!

Anyone who’s worked in Web content for any length of time realizes how absurd such recommendations are. And yet … how often do you see real estate spent welcoming people to a page, readers told to click here as if they’re a trained dog, splash pages and pdfs and videos making information as hard to get as possible, Web pages organized by unknowable institutional divisions, copy no one outside of academia would understand and a glaring lack of consistency. Many of these bugaboos are all too familiar.

Making the fake session all the more interactive, the audience added their own pet peeves about user-unfriendly Web design and not one but TWO people linked to this cringeworthy Appalachian State promo video. It almost makes me wonder if there’s a very real hour-long presentation one could give on this subject.

So what would be your tips for making a Web site hard to use?



Filed under Web

6 responses to “truth in satire: how to make an unusable web site.

  1. I’m so glad you posted your FakeHEWEB presentation. I couldn’t make your session because I got held up standing in the fake line at the fake Starbuck’s for a fake cafe mocha. As you say, many of your examples are far too real, though. The points about using the org chart for web architecture and using a crappy CMS strike a little close to home. 😉

  2. Definitely, definitely use a flowery font for the most important block of text on your home page, and post it as an image.

  3. jesskry

    Yikes. Everything you described is my life…ugh.

  4. Tim, I agree. Satire can be a powerful teaching tool. In terms of the web, I think sometimes it’s easier to understand best practices by recognizing worst practices. When I was starting out on the web, the worst boss I ever had was one of my greatest teachers. I’m not sure I would have learned the “lessons” as effectively without experiencing the dramatic consequences his careless decisions had on my work.

    I enjoyed creating my FakeHEWeb09 presentation as well: “Web Content Marketing: How to Successfully Publish and Promote A Website With Outdated and Irrelevant Content.” What makes these topics so funny is that they’re true. I see people trying to “use as much dense academic jargon and obscure acronyms as possible” in their web copy as often as I see people promoting outdated and irrelevant content.

    I think the value of satire here is that people appreciate the absurdity of these statements and actions and realize the benefit of adopting best practices.

  5. Don’t forget the all-important background photo with camouflaged text on top!

    Or a search tool that returns PDFs that are at best marginally related to what you searched!

    Or a header image that is not hyperlinked to the home page!

    Or pages of your site that physically do not let you return to the search listings from which you came!

  6. For your hour-long presentation (if any) you might like to include an admonition against short pages. A user should have to scroll down at least 3 screens to find the desired information. Under no circumstances should there be any “Return to Top of Page” links.

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