Critique: 9th Street Rag
Review by Bennie C. Taylor
The content of this site is vast and varied; you offer a wealth of material about many areas of concernto postal workers. The site reflects a tremendous amount of time and effort spent gathering and publishing useful and interesting information. When a site has such a wide scope, the webmaster must break down the content into definitive portions (sections, categories, topics).
Organization of content:
Content should be set forth logically under specific topic headings or categories and should be clearly labelled. Material that is less pertinent can be added at the end of the content. Perhaps the NSR search feature is a good idea, especially if you have some archived material, but I think the Google search is probably superfluous.
Now, which topics are the most important to you and fellow postal workers?
Due to its position on the page and large size, the Memorial Day holiday image appears to be the chief item of interest. The remaining site content refutes this, but the (unintended) emphasis on "paid time off" might lead a visitor to form an erroreous conception of your work ethic. Smile!
Your site description on the WDR page lists the information you intend to provide. Your visitors should see this same description. In an introductory paragraph tell us what the main topics will be:
- information from the postal service,
- information from postal unions,
- world and local news pertaining to postal workers, and
- commentary and opinion on postal issues.
You could use these four major topics as an outline and set up a page for each; on the sub pages you could offer more links which you arrange in groups of like items. Your introductory paragraph can provide an overview of the site as a whole with text links inside the explanation.
Page length and load time:
Your start page could easily be broken down into several shorter pages.
No one likes to scroll down a really long page. There are more than 3000 words on this page and almost 200 links - many of them are logos. Of course, the page loads slowly. Those with a 56K dial-up modem must wait almost one minute. Cable and T1 connections are are relatively slow at slightly over 8 and 4 seconds respectively.
Several of your larger images (if they must be used at all) could easily be optimized to load faster without losing their clarity.
One major item that impressed me favorably was your use of explanatory "alt" tags which aid navigation and usability. But because the page is so long, there are almost 3000 lines of HTML code for the start page. A more extensive use of CSS would shorten your typing time a good bit regardless of whether you divide the material up into sub pages or not. The more code you use the more chance of making errors and the more difficult it is to correct. Always validate your code to find your errors. After correcting the errors, revalidate.
A validator will show the proprietary tags you have used. Unless you want to make alternate pages for those browsers that do not support certain code, it is better to omit that code completely. You want your site to be easily read by people with all sorts of browsers and Internet connections.
Drop the stylized scrollbar; these were popular for a while but have since become outmoded. Their decorative value does not justify the amount of code needed to define them. [EDITOR: Bennie, good point, several of our testers didn't see the scroll bar at all.]
The links you have now seem to work fine. But where is the main navigation?
I need to know "about this site" and perhaps see a privacy statment and/or disclaimer.
Where is the "contact us" link? The main navigation must be high on the page; right under the banner is best. Other menus can go in the sidebars or within paragraphs of text, but the main navigation should be highly visible right at the start.
Breaking your start page into several pages should reduce the amount of links needed on each page. Most people do not mind clicking two times to reach a specific article of interest.
On a sub page sidebar put only those links which relate to the material presented on the sub page. However, don't forget to link back to the start page and perhaps to the three other main categories in your top or main navigation area. Don't let your readers get lost. Text links are best for this purpose because the visitor can scan them quickly. Although a drop down menu is good for organizing links, it takes effort to use it.
One logo not included on your start page is used on a number of sub pages which are linked from the left sidebar menu. A word or two introducing this feature might be useful. Who writes this? Is it your creation or that of someone else? Why do these sub pages use this logo as the banner? The name is the same as the banner on your start page, but the style is completely different.
Layout and appearance:
It is not a good idea to start the text of a site below the end of the first visible screen. So much space is wasted here. The nice banner seems isolated, visually unrelated to the rest of the page.
Next, the large holiday image sits in solitary splendor. And there is no introductory paragraph or welcome. We are plunged right into one of the main categories without being told how this relates to the site as a whole.
Union membership is a controversial issue; this item should be introduced. And you should decide whether yours will be a purely informative site or whether your are publishing to voice your personal opinions. Either option is valid - but don't mix the two without some clarification and explanation.
After the union feature and related items there follows a section called FYI. You use many logos in a seemingly random order. Actually, I like the colorful logos and images. They are distinctive and add visual interest to the page. But there are so many of them! Perhaps they could be better integrated into the textual content - reduced in size and placed closer to the articles they introduce.
Unfortunately, the background color next changes to dark blue. The text is black and links are red. Dark backgrounds are seldom used by professional webmasters. Dark text on a dark background is difficult to see. It is better to create a bland page than to reduce readibility by changing colors simply for decorative purposes. There are many better ways to show a shift from one category to another. On this site the best method would be to create a separate page for each new category of information.
The last part of the start page changes back to dark text on a white background for the "news" items. Instead of quoting each item here in its entirely you could shorten your start page by placing the news articles on a separate page with an appropriate link to it.
Keep the red, white, and blue color scheme. It is quite appropriate and looks nice with the government logos. However, the main banner is a lighter, brighter blue that does not coordinate so very well with the darker blues. Too, the light blue background used behind the first article looks a little "off." I do not know why, but I have seen many examples of a lighter blue "clashing" with navy. Maybe Mr. Pixelsmith will explain this and solve this problem for us. Also, keep in mind that visitors associate underlined blue text with clickable links. Consistency in page color and link colors will make a cleaner page and increase user satisfaction.
I like your title - it is catchy. (Maybe a subtitle would relate it to the material you offer.) In any case, you have created quite an opus here.
Mr. Pixelsmith Comments
As always, Bennie, you've been thorough and courteous. Perhaps you've been too easy on Ninth Street Rag - this page is incredible! We would venture to guess few readers get below the 3rd page... that leaves 9 full screens of information they'll miss. We certainly hope they heed your advice to break the site up into an organized map of topics. They call themselves a newspaper or news magazine, so why not follow that metaphor.
As for the color shifts, they've called for various HEX colors, but several are out of the basic 215 HEX matrix. That means you see some shifts on your monitor, but others might not. And, you're very right about that dark blue. They should reserve the dark blue for accents or buttons only and NEVER use it as a background for text. The other blues are superfluous. If they must use "shades" of blue then they need to pull them from blue spans on the HEX grid, not jumping around the grid picking colors on the fly. Blues are particularly annoying when they are not harmonious -- introduce a tad of yellow and you've got nausea -- and don't forget that many monitors introduce a yellow cast. While this cast may not even be noticeable, it will dramatically affect blues. So, beware.
Thanks for the great critique, Bennie... one of the best we've had!
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