It is amazing to me how the Church, equipped with such a simple message as the Grace of God through Jesus Christ, has gone to such extremes to collude such a liberating message with such antithetical ideas such as crusades, indulgences and ‘kitschy‘ website design. Especially the latter in a day an age where everything you need to know about designing an accessible and usable website is freely available at places such as Mark Pilgrim’s ‘Dive the Accessibility‘ or the Yale ‘Web Style Guide, 2nd edition‘.
So imagine my ‘forhead-to-hand‘ exasperation when stumbling upon a para-church website entitled ‘Laborers In Christ.’ Indeed, it felt like a term at Leavenworth as I tried to make heads or tails of a site with a color scheme so busy that I found myself having to rest on the couch with teabags on my eyes after visiting it. Yeah, okay, so I’m exaggerating about the teabags, and it’s my 4 year old who makes me in want of rest; that aside, the ‘Laborers In Christ.’ website could use some serious healing.
I guess the first thing that bugs me is the black background. Yeah, I realize I’m getting into personal preference territory with this particular criticism, but honestly folks, but if we’re children of the Light, then why create sites that from across the room could be mistaken for 2600 Magazine? In the case of ‘Laborers In Christ,’ I suspect in this case the black background was necessitated as a result of a ‘virtual‘ text color scheme that is defined below the fold of the home page under the caption of “Color Symbolism of this Website.”
There are two problems with expecting users to cut-n-paste such colorful symbolism into their mental clipboards:
- First time visitors may actually read this caption to think that anything written in red are the words of Christ, just like it is in their King James Bible.
- The context is subordinated to the color selection. As a result, not only does the webmaster have to employ a black background, but has to render all the text all bold all the time. AN EFFECT SIMILAR TO WRITING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME … it makes people think you’re yelling all the time.
Getting back above the fold we have a banner that is a rollover GIF that is a link not back to the homepage, but to a very long Gospel page full of Scripture references that are made difficult to read by virtue of the font and color selection. Moreover, none of the Scripture references hyperlink back to an online Bible so you can read each verse selection in context.
Continuing above the fold of the frontpage, and after the aforementioned rollover banner GIF:
- we are greeted with an animated GIF welcome message;
- offered a pulsating star reminiscent of the Heaven’s Gate;
- made to read church speak in bold red and blue, all centered, all in bold;
- forced to chase words in white that are so important, the webmaster makes you chase them one letter at a time by rendering them as a scrolling marquee;
- pudgy red graphic page divides with some interesting alternate text;
- and finally we’re befuddled with a ubiquitous mission statement.
Wandering in the Wilderness
Basically, the frontpage of this website contains nothing that indicates to me, a first time visitor, what this site has to offer in the way of answering my questions … at least not until I scroll to the bottom of the page where we are at last given a menu of what the site contains.
In fact each and every page was, as Vincent Flanders would put it, “Learning good web design by looking at bad web design.” A “Smite” page, which lives up to its name, casting down my bandwidth with a scrolling java applet. A Bible Answer page that uses an entirely different mechanism than the Bible Topic page to deliver text in the similarly difficult to read, popup window fashion … only everything is all bold font all the time.
Of course the most insidious was a Bible Search page that offers an alphabetical concordance where you’re required to click on a letter, such as G, and you get a popup window full of word beginning with G (all in bold blue against a black background) which you’re then supposed to take your cursor, copy over the word you want into your PC’s clipboard, close the pop-up window and paste it into the parent form. I’m sure Jakob Nielsen would have something to say of this type of usability, unfortunately I doubt I could print it in polite company.
Hiding your light under a bowl
Upset? You bet I am! Yes, we’re all called to be Laborers in Christ, but our toil should be in casting down foolish arguments, not in obfuscating a message already clouded by postmodern thinking, zealots on both extremes, and hypocrites. C’mon people, work with me here.
Please note, I haven’t said a thing about the theology on this website. Nor am I demanding that it become a ‘stinkin’ art project‘. Instead I would just rather Laborers in Christ, and others sites like it, let the message speak for itself without having to “dress it up” with contrivances and gimmicks that were dated well before the dot.com bust.
Laboring for a better web presence
How would I heal this site? I would:
- drop the heavy metal, pr0n, warez color scheme;
- install MovableType;
- keep the categories defined on the menu of the bottom page;
- lose the guestbook and news pages;
- make each article, study, what-have-you a post;
- look for a better online Bible
This approach would offer this collection (and that is what this site is, a collection of documents) the following benefits:
- Consistent look-n-feel throughout;
- Everything can be found with the built-in search feature;
- Scripture can be automatically linked with a simple plug-in;
- Adding new content would be a snap;
- RSS Syndication
Unfortunately, it has been my experience with sites such like ‘Laborers in Christ‘ that its fans tend to attack the messenger rather than modifying their conveyance of The Message. Hopefully, that won’t be the case this time.
BTW, if you’ve got suggestions for an online Bible that’s easy to deploy on a typical website, I’d be glad to hear about it.