Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Does an Award Winning Design Reflect the Content Within?

I am catching up on reading and Internet surfing, which means I'm finding things I should have read months ago.  This blog post wonders if award winning book covers are on books with highly rated content.  I've copied the post's graphic below and you're welcome to go read the original post.  However, this got me thinking about web site design and specifically library web sites.

Most libraries have a web site.  Those sites are created in a number of different ways, using free and fee-based tools.  Some provide basic information about the library, while others are more in-depth.  I suspect that most do not provide all of the information that their users want, such as information about the staff or board of trustees, or details about borrowing privileges.  Indeed many libraries only provide what the staff is interested in sharing, and that could be very little.

Most libraries do not have someone on staff who can create a professional design of the web site.  Sites which we might consider "award winning" are likely owned by large, well-funded libraries, where a tech-savvy person internally or externally is charged with maintaining the site.  As our computing devices have changed (e.g., the move to mobile devices), our site designers have had to create sites that will look good and function on any type of device. This is called responsive design.  My own site is an example of one that uses responsive design so that it functions well on any type of device.

The problem with web sites (and books) is that a great looking site may have very little useful content.  In some cases, a great looking site may actually contain fake content, while a site that is not designed by a professional may have extemely useful content.  Yes, judging a book (or web site) by its design can be problematic.

So what are you to do? 
  • Whether your site is for a digitization program, a specific department, or the entire library, make sure that it gives users the information that they desire about you (program, department, library).  If you are waiting until it is designed perfectly, don't.  Place the information online, then schedule time to make it better.
  • State your assumptions.  You actually have no idea who will use your web site, so don't assume that they will know specific details about you (e.g., location).  
  • Work towards a design that is compliant with American with Disabilities Act rules/guidelines.  If you don't know what that means, ask someone.  Yes, there are free tools, like this one, which you can use to assess accessibility.  I know you might get frustrated with the errors, but try to work on fixing them.
  • Work towards functional and informative, then towards beautiful.  People will endure a less than beautiful web site, if it delivers worthwhile information.
  • When possible hire someone - even a knowledgeable intern - who can help you with your web site.  Remember that you can contract with someone to provide this service on-demand.
By the way, I did run my own web site through the WAVE tool and I can see that I have some changes to make!  I guess I better do that before I look at any of the books below.

Created by Syracuse University's School of Information Studies master of information management program.

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