Jul 13, 2007

Physician Heal Thyself

Few things are as annoying to me as going to an agency web site and finding yet another "look how clever we are with flash" site that's pretty much impossible to navigate.

You know the ones I'm talking about. They've got cute little graphic symbols for the various nav functions that you're supposed to figure out and think "wow, they are so cool to think of that."

Whereas what I'm really thinking is "Hmmm. If I roll over this typewriter icon, it makes a noise and some other icons come up. None of which seem to indicate that they're the place I can find the phone number. I should have just dialed 411."

Yup. That's right. The main reason I, or most people, go to an agency web site is to find out the address and phone number of say their Los Angeles office. So we can figure out how to get in touch with someone who works there. If I'm a client (or if a headhunter calls me) I may also want to check out their work. But probably not. I mean I kind of know what BBDO's been up to, you know?

So why make it so damn hard to figure out? And that goes double for all of you who design your portfolio web sites to resemble the Rosetta Stone.

Seriously. I've got about 5 minutes to check out your site. I'll look at a few print ads and then a banner or TV spot or something before deciding if I want to meet you or not. And if you make me guess what all those little fucking symbols mean or if you've got flash that takes 3 of those 5 minutes to load, I'm going to pass.

And while I'm at it, please, please, please, avoid putting those dumb little quotes on your site that say things like "I don't do ads. I do ideas." (Really? I mean knock me over with a feather, I never knew there were people who did that.) Even worse is some quote you found on bartleby.com from Sartre about creativity that's supposed to convince me that you're a real Renaissance man or woman.

Now there's generally a strong correlation between how overdesigned a site is and how lame the work is. Same way I could generally have guaranteed you that the book in the $500 portfolio with that onion skin paper protecting every page was going to suck.

Now I understand that there's a temptation, both from agencies and creatives, to show off the latest flash tricks, to make your site seem just as creative as your work. But resist. You're only frustrating your users and clearly demonstrating the fact that you'll choose form over function at every juncture. Portfolio and agency websites should be elegant but still simple enough for a harried user to get through and find what they need in a hurry. With clear and simple navigation-- the ability to return to the home page with just one click is particularly important.

Or, as a great art director/mentor once said to me, years ago. "What is this shite Toad? Just do your resume in Palatino or Helvetica and be done with it. The only reason someone's going to read it is to see where else you worked and if they know anyone who knows you. Don't use it to show off how clever you are. That's what the rest of your book is for."


Anonymous said...

Well said, Toad.

Along the same lines, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on Wieden + Kennedy's newly redesigned site.

It used to be refreshingly understated. Now it tries a bit too hard, if you ask me. Like its trying to prove something (or having a mid-life crisis, perhaps).

Goodby, thankfully, still gets it right. Confident and simple. Take care.

George Parker said...

That's a very funny post. I think I'll rip it off on AdScam... I mean do an "Homage" So much classier in French.

Alan Wolk said...

Well I just "homaged" you right back on your Second Life post.

So we're even ;)

RFB said...

Good advice. And great title.

(off to make sure my personal site tells a straight story and doesn't look like the Rosetta Stone)

Alan Wolk said...

@fatc: One element missing from both Goodby and Wieden's sites is that little Mapquest or GoogleMaps pop-up widget thing. Mostly because if I'm looking at their address, I might also be planning a visit and the widget would save me as step.

But other than that, I thought both sites were well-designed. I don't mind Wieden's site at all, in fact I was impressed: I found IA pretty logical and it was easy to navigate. Ditto Goodby's site which was more straightforward. Both sites seemed to (graphically) match the personality of the agency.

Jason Fox said...

Well said, Toad. And happy to have found your blog (via George).

Anonymous said...

la communidad is one of the only Flash-based sites I can tolerate. Why? Becasue it serves their concept. That's different than being the concept.

Alan Wolk said...

@j_fox: Thanks and welcome aboard. I'll definitely take a look at your blog.

@David Burns: Hmmm. The La Communidad site committed one of Toad's Eternal Sins within the first few seconds: It made a loud noise that I couldn't immediately figure out how to turn off. (Running water in this case.)
Clever, but since I'm often browsing late at night or during meetings that I'm supposed to be paying attentino at, I have an aversion to sites that come with any sort of sound effects. Especially sites that play music. (You hear that, MySpace?)

Other than that it's easier to navigate than many other flash sites. But still not as easy as even W+K's site.