keeping it real

I’m really impressed by people who can keep things really simple. I remember a colleague once saying that ‘entropy is the natural state of the universe, and your efforts to bring order to my chaos is offensive, not only to me, but to the universe itself’. Science teachers – they should’ve got out more when they were students.

I notice every thing I do becomes more complicated that I plan. I aspire to creating elegant web design. The results might be elegant, but the work it takes is a long way from effortless – not only is there the content, there is the coding, and the determination to keep the design simple and working. It might be easier to follow the Viruswitch’s instructions on how to create an extremely bad website. Her instructions relate more specifically to a university web site – actually, based on my limited knowledge, EVERY university web site. Why is it that university sites cannot, under any circumstances, include:

  • a search engine that produces sensible results
  • shows the fees associated with each course, clearly
  • a shopping cart for courses which allows you to pick and mix, have a running total of the fees, and the names and costs of any texts required
  • include information that at least seems current or – even better – includes information for people trying to make a plan for next year
  • has few, or no, pictures of beautiful students on the way to academic ecstasy?

I recently suggested that staff presentations about what they (we) do could be captured on video, and then be available on our intranet. We could keep the knowledge for staff who were away, or for the induction of new staff. But no, apparently, video distribution is too tech-a-logical. It’s ok to have a web site that is just one notch above unusable, so long as we don’t include information that might prove useful.

Which I think explains why I what do becomes more complicated. I add salt and pepper to my soft boiled eggs. Sugar in my coffee. Spring in my step. I try to enhance my user experience. When I work on my web sites I think about how to make the site work if I was surfing on my old Apple IIe. And then my old Amiga 500 (with the blistering 2400 bps modem). If the site would work on those machines, I figure most of the site work is dealt to. I then just have to concern myself with content. And that, I think is one of the most arcane secrets that the university and government web sites miss – it’s about having an individual responsible and accountable for an aspect of the site, and having another person with the job of going through and spot checking.

You’d be able to hire smart high school kids in their holidays. After all, in the case of the university, these are the next group of undergrads. Fire them up, get them spot checking and pay $10 for every error they find, and $20 for every time they find something they don’t understand. Deduct the $10/per – $20/per from the salary of the person who is responsible for the pages.

Keeping it simple.

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