Last Friday, in my blog entitled “7 Things You Don’t Know” I expressed my frustration over the disparity between geeks and the rest of the world. Little did I know Jeffrey Zeldman, the web’s coolest usability geek, had already dealt with this topic back in February of 2002 in his article entitled Where have all the designers gone?.
The article is full of fabulous quotes, but I’ll just throw down two tidbits of “opium content” to get you hooked:
“On the surface, Web designers would seem to have the coolest job in the world. But surfaces can lie. Designers are increasingly frustrated by a Technology Gap … Designers often enjoy T-1 or DSL access, powerful processors, 21-inch monitors, and millions of colors, and we don’t understand why everybody doesn’t have it so good.”
Contast this statement with “Average citizens don’t spend ten hours a day working with Web stuff. They’re not bored by underlines and menu bars, they’re just starting to understand how those things work.”
Not only has Zeldman brilliantly explained why we still get visits, and sometimes complaints, from users browsing with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.2 or Netscape 4.07 – but he also sums perhaps the biggest problem with church web design.
It’s called the lowest common denominator and at some level, we need to address it. For example, you’ll notice that this web site validates. I did this because a rather myopic usability zealot on a newsgroup was calling into question my credibility and worth as a dispenser of techno advice because my site didn’t validate. It was the guy’s only argument. So I made this site validate … then I took his only stick and wacked him upside the head with the statement “What whall it profit a man to have a valid site and lose his audience because his content sucks?”
Zeldman eloquently and thoroughly answers this question in the aforementioned article. He also makes some other very good points that I’ll boil down for the 79 percent of you who just scan. It’s about the audience stupid.
Do evangelize your users to use better browsers. Do be careful about the size of the graphics. Don’t throw down alot of Jesus Junk at them. Don’t antagonize them with long download times. Do make your navigation conspicious. Don’t employ gee-wiz technologies just because you can. Do remember you are serving a virtual community when you build your church web site. Within these parameters, don’t be afraid to make your church web site beautiful – especially if the real-world church you’re talking about is full of beauty.
Usability is important. Real important. But like any other tool, keep in mind it is a means to an end. It should not superceed the fact that we are making church web sites to serve members and potential visitors – not to make them slaves of our particular brand of techno-dogma.
5"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; – Matthew 23:3-5