February 14th, 2007

Silly - Dirty Face

(no subject)

A post by one of fandom's great organizers, kevin_standlee, reminded me of one of my pet peeves. Fandom is filled with great artists and technical professionals, and yet we have what I feel are some of the least appealing and most unfriendly web pages out there. Yes, I know it makes is a bit of a sod to say it, and I apologize up front to those of you who put in long hours working on web pages that I'm about to criticize. But here's the thing, I think this is an important enough issue to speak up about.

There are many standout web pages of course, but for many others the design, usability, appearance, professionalism, etc, of fannish pages generally is inadequate or even completely lacking, by current standards and often even by any standard. In particular I find that the web presence associated with our most treasured institutions (Worldcon, The Hugo Award and WSFS) is amongst the weakest of all.

kevin_standlee was annoyed by people not simply reading the information on the WSFS page. He is of course right, but on the other hand, I would argue that they should not have to. We should make things easier to browsers, just as any well designed web page out there does. It's not just about the information anymore, it's about finding it. And this is a simple example and yes Google finds everything and it is right there on most every page, but even I missed it on my first skim through.

Years ago I created a web page with a ton of useful information on it. My design sucked, and in point of fact it was the same kind of design as the primary pages I refer to. As a result many people struggled to navigate my page, despite its simple layout. I therefore received a greater number of emails with questions. As I later learned, I could have spared myself much of that by simply improving my web design (you will never eradicate stupid emails because the world is full of the dilly and the lazy).

Beyond fixing the poor layout of these pages, I believe that anyone visiting these pages should find themselves looking at something professional. Why should anyone browsing to find out more about Worldcons, the Hugos or WSFS take them seriously if we appear to be treating it like someone's pet project? I say this because they look like simple web pages done by hand, not even ones using tools like Dreamweaver or FrontPage (edit: in the sense that an amateur with no HTML knowledge can use tools like these to create more professional web pages, not in the sense that I recommend any cookie-cutter solutions, which I don't). I don't see anything elegant or prestigious about them. All three of these institutions have great value and prestige and I think their web pages should reflect that.

Finally, there is no recognizable symbol or logo for any of these three. We have never branded ourselves (I'm going to use words derived from "brand" in the design sense, not the corporate sense, so no, this is not an attempt to create something like Worldcon Inc). One can't stick a Worldcon logo in a newspaper/magazine article, unless one picks a specific year's own logo. Not even in a fannish publication. Publishers can't put a Hugo logo on reprints books (or anything) that have won the Hugo. Winners can't add a Hugo banner to their web pages. People who want to link to any of these pages can't do so with a striking banner. There is no unifying symbol for Worldcons, which are held in different cities every year. None of these web pages or institutions has anything distinctive about them. I believe we need them to have this distinction, primarily for the Hugo, secondarily for Worldcons and also for the WSFS.

In short I believe we should tap into the resources at our disposal and fix these pages. For example, many people in fandom now know that agrathea is a professional web designer and yet nobody has tapped into her skills. More to the point I believe it will add to what we hold most dear, in prestige, interest, visibility, marketability, etc, and it would be a visible representation of our own reverence for those aspects of fandom most precious to us. And it would bring us up to date... the future we can tackle next.

And not to merely be a complainer without a solution, I can offer this: agrathea is a professional designer who specializes in web design and branding. She volunteers (in the fannish sense of volunteering) to brand all three of these institutions and to do a formal web design for them (including possibly having a non-tech content management). This is no small thing I assure you and it represents an enormous amount of work. The logos could be designed as part of contests, but the judges should include people familiar with design work, as great artwork does not necessarily equate to a great logo that can be used in both the print world and the web world. Regardless of how it is handled I believe it should be done, by someone.

Yes, I'm not so naïve as to believe any of this will be easy and I know that many fans would be concerned with several aspects of this. And there are many questions: Who would approve the design and branding? The MPC? The smofs list? One of the twenty-seven thousand mythical secret cabals? Would this make us an Inc by osmosis? (I believe NOT because it is simply souping up our image and need not go any further, semantics about the word "branding" aside.) Who would maintain the pages? I could go on, but enough for now.

I feel we can and should do far better. I Also think it is in our best interests to do so. Am I full of it?