As a web developer, I feel I know a little bit about design and functionality on a website. Lately I have been noticing my use of a website depends heavily on design and functionality, as I’m sure it does for most people whether they realize it or not. Take, for instance, how I get my news online.
Here are screen shots of both CNN and Fox News. Click the images to go to the sites. While Fox News is more my brand of news (surprise surprise), I find myself going to CNN more often. This is because I feel CNN has a nicer, cleaner looking site. CNN’s logo blends nicely with the rest of the banner, unlike Fox’s, which just looks like it’s thrown there. There isn’t too much going on ‘above the fold’ for CNN. With Fox, it’s a different story. For example, Fox offers 27 links in it’s main navigation. CNN offers 20 (which was actually more than I thought). CNN’s navigation is also contained to one, solitary line. Fox has theirs on two lines, each a different shade of blue. Below the fold on Fox is even worse.
Where CNN offers more stories organized in a pretty nice fashion, Fox offers links to all of their shows and a litany of thumbnail images. I feel that I get much more information from CNN’s homepage, which is what the user wants. Plus, CNN’s links are much friendlier. If you’ll notice, a link to a story on CNN appears like this, after ‘cnn.com’:
/2007/US/04/16/vtech.shooting/index.html. Year, region, month, day, name of story. Here is a link following ‘foxnews.com’:
/story/0,2933,266463,00.html. This is not informative, nor very nice looking. But news isn’t the only problem area. Because of GMail, I never use my school’s email system.
What got me thinking about this was Google asking students to take their survey about campus email. I am a staunch user of GMail and tell everyone I know to use it. It’s a good interface, easy to use, lots of space and has great IM and Calendar integration. I was also able to make it a one stop shop for sending and receiving email from the multitude of email addresses I have. “Royal Mail,” as the University of Scranton calls it, is not a good experience. It’s poorly designed and not very intuitive. Unless you change the settings, you get oldest mail first, and deleting a lot of email at one time is not easy. But the biggest annoyance I feel, is no search. GMail has excellent functionality here, allowing me not only to quickly find mail, but the search also allows me to use GMail as a file server. And with near 3GB of space, I have the capacity to do so too.
Design and functionality is everything on the web. If your site doesn’t make the user experience easy, you’re app is dead in the water. GMail has turned me away from my school’s lousy email system, and CNN’s design helps me tolerate their particular branding of news (though CNN isn’t nearly as bad as MSNBC).