I'm a bit of a cynic really. Anyone that's trawled through the depths of this blog will know that I have a fairly acid tongue when it comes to technology. I am a walking example of the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt".
One of the projects I've been involved in recently has started generating press just by virtue of it being better than anything that has preceded it in this particular industry - I personally would have preferred them to be commenting about the content but any press is good press as they say.
By rights I should have a nice warm fuzzy feeling about having a site people talk about and it's always great to receive recognition for a job well done - especially for my more junior staff who have worked damned hard on the site - however it is disappointing that we still exist in an age online where just applying some good design, good information architecture and some well balanced technology is enough to turn an entire sector on it's head.
Apologists will hold up their hands and say "we're a young form of media - it's going to take time". I however am not in this camp - how much time do we need?
Personally I find it untenable that there are still sites being built using non-standards based HTML and CSS, that sites beyond a couple of holding pages are built using things like Dreamweaver and not content managed, that good structural web design is something that still amazes people rather than being the norm and that information architecture still hasn't found its way to the hearts of 95% of the digital agencies that service the web.
I am constantly lamenting the state of most industries' websites generally. Take a tour around the leisure industry and find a website for a hotel anywhere in the world. Look at most ecommerce sites for even big retailers and certainly go anywhere online in the government, volunteering or political sectors and you are sure to be assaulted by bad design, bad technology and most importantly bad information architecture.
Even five years ago there were excuses that bore merit - changing web standards and platforms, variation of Internet connection speeds and different levels of web penetration in different markets. These excuses don't exist any more. And to be honest why was it when I was learning my craft as a developer all those years ago that I was told about things like usability, information design and later information architecture but the junior developers and designers now are not...
This is why there are still industries to revolutionise if you have the contacts, the desire or the contracts to do it. Here is my short list of the biggest problem industries:
1. Tourism and leisure
Get some good design and photos, don't use bog standard templates and for goodness sake stop sending my credit card details in unencrypted email.
2. Holiday / travel booking
Get some fuzzy logic in your scripting. If I can't fly tomorrow but I can fly the next day tell me without making me guess. Also make it easy for me to bounce back and forth between different trips without having to start again. Remember all those lectures about how to maintain the state of a system in Computer Science... this is what they were for.
Keep your site updated with accurate stock levels. I also shouldn't have to go to the end of the check out process to find out what the shipping charges are. Do a detection on my regional settings or IP address and take a best guess and say it's a guess. 95% of the time you'll be right and I'll stop having to go back and forth.
4. Service Media
When will you learn that a flash site turns off most people as does a splash page. At least have an alternative HTML site so I can find your phone number / contact email or address. Also remember that table based design was around in 1997 - time to get with the times guys.
5. Volunteering / politics
Yes I know you are on a budget but just because someone you know or your favourite intern just happens to have a copy of dreamweaver doesn't make them a professional web designer or developer. More harm than good is done by casual development - find some budget, find someone aligned to your cause and they'll do it cheaper or for kudos value and develop a site worth looking at.
Just because a turd is shiny doen't make it worth anything. Above all make sure someone in the procuring department knows the difference between HTML and CSS and you won't get shafted. Government expenditure online is extortionate for the value achieved. Given the amount of paperwork done for any bit of government work it is amazing that Information Architecture isn't put right to the centre of the brief... how many people using direct.gov.uk would that help?
So get stuck in and lets see some other industries and sectors turned on their head. It's about time the biggest information resource in history got a bit of a spit polish and had all the kinks straightened.