In the move to get as much exposure and as many fans as possible for our new web show, Vampire Zombie Werewolf*, we are designing a site with a lot of clutter. Lots of thumbnails, lots of links, lots of boxes with text fed from other parts of the site, lots of badges to like or tweet or love or post, forms for commenting… Let’s just say it’s the opposite of a clean and orderly site.
The site will not be bad. In fact, despite the mess, I think it’s turning out to be quite nice. It will certainly be better than most sites out there, especially other video and social sites. But it won’t necessarily be a visual pleasure, serene and welcoming. It will be strident, a salesman wearing a trench coat containing pockets overflowing with goodies. Watch our show! Here it is! You love it you can tell because you want to click on everything here on the page go ahead just don’t leave please no don’t leave!
The practicality of having a site with every possible trick to lure and keep an audience is, unfortunately, more important than a site with a few really wonderful experiences. Robb is right: just look at the most popular sites on the Web. YouTube? Disaster. Facebook? A mess. Google? Noisy. But people love them and flock to them and expect the rest of their world to be like this. Can we have a serene, fun, cool site without all that? Of course we can. But no one knows who we are. If we’re going to have any chance of catching the eyes of the Web-blind, we have to have something they expect. It hurts me to admit that. Hopefully we are balancing noise with style.
I’ve heard of Edward Tufte, but for the first time today, I read about his concept of 1+1=3. I saw it mentioned in a blog post about the design tweaks in a recent update to a program I use often, OmniFocus. Perhaps ironically, I’ve been searching for a replacement to OmniFocus because that application’s vast array of features and the design that has resulted have been factors in me not using the app as much as I should. I don’t think OmniFocus is badly designed at all, I just want something simpler, less busy, faster for me to use.
Alas, the major feature I truly do desire in a to-do app—invisible, automatic syncing among all instances of the app across Macs and iDevices—is only to be found in OmniFocus. And so, for now, I have decided to stay with it and purchase the iPad version of the app. When I can afford it.
Now, 1+1=3. The Omni blog post linked to this essay by Scott Jensen, which contains a design example I imagine we have all had a bad run-in with at one time or another: elevator open and close buttons.
I agree 100% that open and close buttons require too much thinking. It takes too long to decide which button is the one you need to press. I would welcome better buttons in my office building, that’s for sure. However, once Scott gets to the part about removing the close button altogether, to simplify the choice and remove the +1 (and therefore the =3), I start to balk. I do not do so because I think the close button should be there to save a few seconds. I do so because the fundamental design of elevator systems do not allow for a perfect timing of the closing of the doors.
Well, here, it’s like this: As with most elevators, the cars in my building emit a piercing alarm when the doors are allowed to stay open too long. Sometimes, as is currently the case here at the office, an elevator’s programming goes awry, and the doors will not close until the alarm has begun to sound. The only way to avoid the alarm? Hit the close button and hold it until the doors shut.
A more selfish case also exists in my office building. In the morning, until about 10:00am, the doors of the elevators on the lobby level are programmed to stay open until just before the alarm sounds. It feels interminable. I assume this pause is to allow each car to accept a maximum allotment of rush hour bodies before climbing into the building. But what if no one is coming? Why wait there like fools? No need to. There’s a close button.
In the non-close button scenario from Scott’s essay, we’d all be stuck waiting for technology to do whatever the hell it’s doing. If the technology is failing, we all get to stand, wait for the alarm to go off, then listen to it for the 3 seconds it takes the doors to close. In the morning, we all get to stand, waiting inefficiently, until the doors’ program allows them to close.
I’d be happy to take the door close button out of elevators, but another design consideration makes the door close button a near necessity: the elevators themselves. Design keeps the doors open a long time in the mornings. Design causes the elevator doors to fail until the alarm rings. Design allows for a pointless alarm in the first place.
And so it is with the Vampire Zombie Werewolf website. If we wish to attract a wide audience of people who frequent the Web, we have to keep the close button. I wish we could be the cool ones who have a stylish, beautiful, and minimal site that wins us millions of adherents by showcasing the quality of our episodes, but we can’t afford that. The current design of society dictates that we keep what others have come to expect.
A website without comments, three ways to get to everything, summaries of stuff from elsewhere, flashy thumbnail directories, and social linky badges?
An elevator without a close button?
*At this writing, the VZW website linked is not the one I’m referring to. Our new site will be up soon.