Toledo Talk

Futureoftoledo.org government Web site design principles

Mar 8, 2010 update: Below are thoughts from Feb 18, 2010. I don't know if the site has been modified/improved.


In my opinion, http://futureoftoledo.org violates multiple Web design principles, but maybe professional designers or user interface experts have a different view.

The site design typifies government: bloated, inconsistent, and cumbersome. This is unfortunate. The city should have browsed the writings at useit.com. And even if Toledo government had nothing to do with creating this site, it's their baby now. They are responsible for this getting out.

It's a noble concept to seek public input through a Web site, but this design is unsatisfactory. I feel sorry for those users who want to use the site and contribute but may get frustrated because of a clunky Web design.

Was this site created too quickly? It's probably too late to change from a Flash Web site to an HTML-text Web site, but the city or developer can at least make some text color changes. I don't understand how people in government signed off on this.

I believe the city or someone built the site at Wix.com, which describes itself as a "Free Flash Website Builder." It seems the city could have found an out-of-the-box Web site construction tool that did not use Flash. And doesn't the city have one or two IT people who can download a free, mature, community app like Drupal to create a simple, functional Web site?


Feb 17, 2010 - WTOL - Mayor's office uses new website to seek citizens' ideas

City of Toledo leaders have created a new website to solicit residents' ideas to balance the city's budget deficit, which is estimated at more than $43 million.

Mayor Mike Bell has already hosted several meetings to reach a consensus on how to best eliminate the deficit. Since he cannot meet with everyone, Bell has decided to utilize a website to reach more folks.

FutureOfToledo.org launched to allow residents to easily provide their input on how the city should move forward. Steve Cady, Bell's transition coordinator, says the website is "an efficient place to go and get the latest information on the city the budget process."

to easily provide - A split infinitive. Cool.


Who tested this site and came to the conclusion that the site was easy to use and efficient? Did the site developers or owners invite people into a room to test using the site?

This is how the site appears to me when I visit it:

The site is created with Flash. I use the Flashblock add-on in my Firefox Web browser because I dislike Flash most of the time. By clicking on the 'F' button, I can turn on the Flash, so I can view the site.

The exceptions to my dislike for Flash are when I visit Web sites for video games, movie studios, artists, advertising agencies, some Web design firms, and other similar sites that are targeted at specific audiences in a creative field. I would expect such sites to be designed differently, including the use of Flash. Another exception, of course, would be YouTube.

But futureoftoledo.org is targeted at a general audience. I don't waste time on sites like this that unnecessarily use Flash.

futureoftoledo.org is confusing and inefficient. It almost seems it was designed to deter people from offering feedback, but government can later say, "We created a Web site seeking input."

Elementary design violations of futureoftoledo.org :

  • Not understanding the targeted audience.
  • Entirely created using Flash.
  • The back button does not work within the site.
  • It's a computer resource hog, bogging down older machines.
  • Pages load slow because Flash is loading.
  • Scrollbars used within the middle of some pages.
  • Links to twitter, facebook, blog, etc. cause new browser windows to pop-up.
  • Regular text and clickable text share two different colors.
    • most regular text is white, but some clickable text is also white.
    • some regular text is greenish, but some clickable text is also greenish.

Once Flash finally loads, here's a partial screenshot of the home page:

I guess the intuitive part is supposed to be all the annoying "Click Here" white text. That shows a design flaw. Why not simply make all clickable text the greenish color and all non-clickable text white?

Under "Balancing the Budget," make all the greenish text like "Mayor Bell's Letter" and "more about the budget process" clickable instead of having the white "Click Here" text at the end of each line. The greenish text "download the flyer and share with everyone" is not clickable, but it's intuitive enough that it should be. Thus, no need for the "Click Here" text.

Under "Upcoming Meetings," for some reason I thought either the greenish or white text would be clickable, giving more info about each meeting, but it's not clickable.

So on the left side of the page under "Balancing the Budget" and "Upcoming Meetings," none of the greenish text is clickable. But under "Latest News" on the upper right, all greenish text is clickable and not just the "More Updates Here" text. Why no "Click Here" text at the end of each line under "Latest in the News?"

Even if a bad design is chosen, at least be consistent, and this home page is inconsistent, and that can be confusing to users.


More inconsistent use of link colors.

Greenish text is used at the bottom to indicate links. The other greenish text is not clickable.


White text is used at the bottom to indicate links. Greenish text is not clickable.


The list of white text is clickable. No "Click Here" text.


This list of white text is not clickable, except for the "Click Here" text. Maybe what I think are white links are not really white but ivory. Regardless, the whitish links are too similar to the non-clickable white text.


Again, the site is targeted at a wide audience, and for many users in their daily Web surfing, scrollbars embedded within a page are unconventional navigation. And the cute icons at the lower right of each page are cruft. A general audience will possess varying degrees of social media savviness, so what's the point of links to facebook, twitter, a blog, etc? Make the site focused on one thing. Make it a tool with no clutter. Allow the user to get in, perform the expected tasks, and get out, easily, with no distractions.


If government feels the need to spread itself thin with a blog, a twitter page, and a facebook fan page because they believe those services will direct more people to http://futureoftoledo.org then that's fine. Goody social media gum drops. But on this page, it's not immediately clear where to click for twitter, facebook, and the blog. It's the white "Click Here" text at the end of each paragraph of white text. I would at least make the paragraph titles with the larger font-size a greenish color and make them clickable, especially since each paragraph title begins with a verb. Another problem is the "Click Here" text at the end of each paragraph and the little icons at the lower right of each page require new pop-up windows to be created. I have my browser preferences set to disallow pop-up windows, which I had to change for this site.


Social Media

The other Toledo government links represented by the icons at the bottom right of each page:

  • Blog: http://futureoftoledo.tumblr.com/ - This is fine, but it's not updated enough. And by using a tool like Drupal, a blog could exist within the main site, instead of externally. Their tumblr blog posts are being cross-posted to their twitter account.
  • Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Toledo-OH/Future-of-Toledo/418541495713 - Had 16 fans earlier and now up to 22 fans. The Facebook fan page could be one of the more important communication tools used by government if it's used. And Facebook fan page wall posts can be cross-posted to their twitter account, which they may be doing.

Etc.


Wonder why the city didn't use its own, existing Web site at http://toledo.oh.gov

October 2007 thread New City of Toledo Web site


Here's a good use of Flash: Penguin Batting

created by jr on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:35:57 am
updated by jr on Oct 22, 2010 at 07:08:04 pm
    Technology     Comments: 12

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tags: toledo   technology   moronism   blog_jr   

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Comments ... #

I followed the link and checked out the site. Man, this is an example of what not to do in web design. I note that the city of Toledo is failing as badly as the web site.

It occurs to me that this web site (Future of Toledo) probably cost a ton of money to build and incorporates various complex design techniques. The site is the quintessential example of complex design and dysfunctional application. Just like the rest of Toledo, it is poorly designed and too expensive.

posted by madjack on Feb 18, 2010 at 01:23:27 pm     #  

Simply put. TERRIBLE! I could use DotNetNuke and put a much user friendly site then this atrocity together in like an hour. I navigated away from the site when it became clear that it was not intended for the avarage user. My 79 yr. mother will never be able to figure out the site let alone the wording of the poll selections which you can rate.

They need to make the site more consistent in design and dumb it down so that those who may be challange can understand the verbaige of the proposed ideas on the "Vote" page.

posted by KraZyKat on Feb 18, 2010 at 02:59:13 pm     #  

Who made this piece of crap? Why on earth did they build THIS in Flash????? And how much of our tax dollars were wasted on this?

posted by toledolen_ on Mar 05, 2010 at 05:00:52 pm     #  

One thing has changed in the past two or three weeks. Now when visiting http://futureoftoledo.org from a machine that's using an older version of Flash, the following message is displayed:

It's the same message when visiting http://wix.com which I think is where or how futureoftoledo.org was created.

You never know what a general user base will have installed on their machines, which is why this government Web site should have been designed simpler, so it would accommodate older computers and technologies.

posted by jr on Mar 08, 2010 at 10:38:36 pm     #  

I joined the facebook page. The facebook page should be, interesting.

posted by OhioKimono on Mar 08, 2010 at 11:18:49 pm     #  

sighs the keyword in this story is "free". This really does not surprise me.

posted by transcom on Mar 09, 2010 at 08:45:05 am     #  

Heh. Also, the waterfront image they used is stretched horizontally to the point where the skyscrapers look about six stories tall.

posted by historymike on Mar 09, 2010 at 08:57:03 am     #  

Flash-based sites went out of fashion a while ago. They are problematic for the reasons listed above.

If this site was made with a do-it-yourself generator, despite some questionable link/style combinations, I suppose it's o-k for what it is. I've seen worse. At least it's up-to-date and has relevant content. However, it is hard to ignore the usability issues - like if the idea is to reach as many people as possible. The designer(s) might want to consider rebuilding it in html.

Most of today's higher-traffic sites are html-based and make use of flash elements like in menus or slideshows.

posted by housebeats on Mar 09, 2010 at 09:21:10 am     #  

while i'm glad they are "trying" I am massively disappointed in the output.

posted by upso on Mar 09, 2010 at 12:14:16 pm     #  

Wix.com isnt 100% free. For a full .com and everything this site has..its around $90 a year. Still...yea.

Well, at least we cant complain that they blew a fortune on a website during the budget problems.

posted by OhioKimono on Mar 09, 2010 at 12:55:03 pm     #  

I would love to see more tech-savvy people in business AND government here in Toledo.

An acquaintance who tried to get an IT job here 8 years ago (successful in other cities, BTW) went on several interviews and found that the people who had input into hiring were not even familiar with current systems ... to the point of not recognizing standard industry acronyms.

posted by viola on Mar 09, 2010 at 01:04:04 pm     #  

From JR: You never know what a general user base will have installed on their machines, which is why this government Web site should have been designed simpler, so it would accommodate older computers and technologies.

You're being too generous. The site should have been designed, and clearly it wasn't.

With as many people as there are available in Toledo who are willing and able to design and implement a mediocre web site, there's no excuse for this monstrosity.

posted by madjack on Mar 09, 2010 at 01:44:37 pm     #