The first website I ever made was hosted by AOL, had a terribly long URL that made no sense and was not for anyone’s eyes but mine. I was a hunter-gatherer of all things search engine or web design related and constantly on information overload.
The first website, called “Dancing Thunder’s Playground” was titled after my nickname, which was “Dancing Thunder” or “DT”. It was where I stockpiled links and chunks of educational information. Eventually I sorted some of it into checklists and shared them with people in discussion lists, clubs and groups that discussed website design.
DT’s Playground melted away into Cre8pc, which spawned Usability Effect and birthed Cre8asiteforums. It’s really a source of astonishment whenever I see the changes that occurred in ten years, as well as all the steps it took to get to the present, including this very blog.
One thing that survived are the checklists. I sell two of them. Both were edited by my friend, Bill Slawski. I researched for them, and tried to explain why items on the list are helpful. The first checklist on ecommerce web design, is the public’s favorite. However, the second one on website conversions, is more focused on explaining why something is worth applying.
They’re non-technical, easy to read and ready to be immediately implemented . Both are terrific for small to medium businesses, startups, and self-learners who wish to teach themselves. I’m a huge supporter of these folks because when I first started out, I was a determined (stubborn) single mom.
Have these people been forgotten?
I came across a new usability checklist the other day. Its target reader is established, educated website developers. I conclude this because it leads off with technical terms and references to things beginners won’t understand.
This is why I doubt it will be helpful to a category of site owners that may also need it.
Small-Town Community Websites
I volunteered to maintain and help manage my town’s local Little League Baseball website because I saw they desperately needed help. I volunteered for my local Pop Warner football website too, but the website designer is content to rely on the software she uses, that requires no knowledge of HTML.
The design looks like 1990′s clunky creative with animated images and confusing navigation, but her face told me she didn’t want someone like me anywhere near it. It’s her baby and I respect that. Maybe the football organization accepts it as well, but my guess is that few people know much about website design and therefore, don’t know they have options.
Maybe they think it will cost too much.
The baseball website, well. I became stuck with it when the Board of Directors and present webmaster saw what I could do. All I did was improve the navigation, added user instructions where they’d be helpful and livened it up with photos, and you would have thought it was Christmas!
A checklist on meeting W3C standards will not help these people. Nor are checkpoints for validating code, writing effective Alt attributes, AJAX, and skip to content links.
This kind of information is useless without teaching beginners how to do it and explaining what it is for. Not only that, if I were to suggest to the volunteer parents they need to “meet accessibility standards”, for example, they’d quit. They do what they can as long as it’s fun. Turn it into work, and I’ve lost them.
There are Always New People
A clear reminder that there are always people just learning how to build websites came the other day at Cre8asiteforums. We have a policy there that says, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.” And yet, one came across the other day that made me realize that even now, people have no idea WHERE to put meta tags on a page. And where was it that I saw this? I came across some advice in my RSS feeds that said there is “no need” for title tags.
These folks clearly need help. They won’t find it on checklists that start off with validating code or labeling form fields.
I felt a wakeup call here for myself. Some checklists are like a test where you go through it, test your knowledge and make improvements. I think we checklist-makers might need to consider explaining whom our checklists are targeted to when we write them. Someone seeing a headline for “Free New Checklist You Can’t Live Without” headline may click on it, only to be disappointed because they don’t understand it.
We still need to get the information to these people. Perhaps we can add links to alternative checklists that are written for different skill levels. Maybe we can break them up into topics better. Ecommerce design differs from informational. Blogs differ from directories. Each style has its own uniqueness and target user.
I liked the technical, more advanced checklist I found the other day. There’s always room for self-improvement and challenges for growth, if you’re inspired by that sort of thing. Checklists are great for reminding us of new trends and design elements that have been proven to work well. They’re excellent ways to store brain-food on website design in one place.
Unfortunately, the folks in my little town will need a lot more convincing before they’ll go near one.