Be Good Not Bad by Brian Warren

22 June 2005

Your Website is Very Difficult to Navigate

I work for a non-profit as “Director of Design and Media”. That’s a fancy name, but it doesn’t say a whole lot. One of my primary responsibilities is to develop the website.

I’ve learned much over the years. In the past two years I became an advocate for web standards and strove to write good code. Our navigation changed from a flash-based menu to a delightful CSS dropdown list. Pages became streamlined and smaller. They became easier to read for non-graphical browsers. It works really well and has been, for the most part, very well received. One thing I do enjoy about my job is that I’m given lots of freedom to experiment with things and I have time to learn how to do it well. I’m still not there yet, but things are going generally in the direction they should be.

So, you can imagine I was a little disappointed to read a note from a donor to the organization I work that said “Your Website is Very Difficult to Navigate”. You see, occasionally, when people send in their donations, they’ll include a little note. That note gets routed to whomever it should be, and this note arrived on my desk yesterday.

So, I thought to myself, “self, is the website difficult to navigate? Maybe it is. Maybe we should conduct a usability study. What on earth could be the problem? Maybe this donor has a really old browser. Maybe every vital page is inadvertently nested 3 layers deep behind unhelpfully named links like ‘more info’, and I never noticed. This is the first I ever heard of our site being difficult.

One of the things about working for a non-profit, and I guess this is the case even in non-profits, but my department is so small that I don’t have people dedicated to content. I have no information architect. I don’t even have a copy editor. It’s all done ad hoc and with the aid of volunteers. So i tend to be a little self-conscious about those decisions of how to organize content and what goes in.

So, what did I do? I tossed the note in the trash can.

I’ve gotten dozens of high-five comments about the website and one bad. If the note had said anything descriptive, anything constructive, I would have given it more attention. Here is a note I would have paid more attention to:

“Your Website is Very Difficult to Navigate. I have poor eyesight and the text on the menus is too small for me to read.”

Then i would have taken action to either make the text bigger or put in some sort of font-size preference. Another good note:

“Your Website is Very Difficult to Navigate. It took me a good 30 minutes to find the ‘Ways to Give’ page.”

Again, a bone I have been thrown.

So, my suggestion to you, dear reader, when criticizing something, especially if you’re doing this in writing, consider if you’re giving the recipient at least a clue as to why you’re criticizing and what they can do to make you happy.