Line of Site: A USC President Web Critique


In the thousands of years we’ve progressed as a species, we’ve finally agreed on how important it is to associate one’s self with an amiable colour scheme and develop one’s personal ‘brand.’  Excuse me while I die a little inside.

Regardless of how this writer feels about it, it’s nonetheless true that being familiar, consistent, and professional-looking are contemporary necessities for anyone trying to sell themselves (or their wares) in this our post-post-post-whatever Age of Sweeping Generalisations and ADD.

In other words: get a nice website.  

We’re young, and, for the better or for worse, we’re web people.  I don’t think there’s much debate about it: our generation spends a lot of its downtime on the Internet.  We’ve developed some idea of what we like, but we especially know what we don’t like; and that’s an important consideration when presenting something new.

In FIMS (though it should be everywhere) we’re told again and again that it’s not just about the message, it’s about how the message is delivered. It’s not just the words on a (web)page that are important; other factors – such as ease of use, interactivity, and aesthetics – all contribute to both our individual and collective impressions of a given website and, by extension, our impressions of the person(s) behind it.

It was with this in mind that I clicked and re-clicked through the respective Internets of our four potential presidents, and I would ask you to keep it in your mind, as well.
——
LOGAN ROSS

Straight from the outset, there’s an ‘arctic tundra’ vibe that permeates Logan’s website with its colour scheme of icy blues, overcast greys, and vast, snowy whitespaces.  The overall feel is, well, ‘simplicity’ is a nice way to put it.  ‘Amateurish’ is another.

The main page, for example, is very sparse.  There’s the obligatory embedded campaign video, some hurried text underneath it, and a right-justified menu with some voting information and a wee bit of social networking.  Happily, the blues of Facebook and Twitter look right at home among the tasteful splashes of cyan on Logan’s site.

However, the heavily populated right menu contrasts starkly with the rest of the page, where elements are more or less float among the abundance of whitespace.

Also, there’s this crazy animation where vertical strips of her head shoot up at seemingly random intervals.  It’s – erm – ‘peculiar’ is the word I’m going to use.

The understated but very functional navigation menu at the top is your gateway to the rest of the site, where you’ll find more photos of Logan and friends in different poses and varied flesh tones.

The elements you’d want to be consistent (the logo at the top, the top navigation, the right-hand menu) always are, which is laudable.  Having a layout as functional as Logan’s is a lot to ask for online; usually I’m willing to settle for ‘sane.’

It should also be mentioned that Logan’s ‘Media’ and ‘Updates’ pages have been, well, updated since I wrote the draft for this article.  It’s a welcome development for those of us whose interaction with the candidates is primarily online.  It’s a bit of a paradox, really: campaigning voraciously means less time to work on one’s website, but visiting a neglected website gives the impression that the candidate hasn’t been doing anything.

Platform layout:

Recently updated, Logan’s platform is now (like Claire’s) contained in an embedded PDF file.

“Oh goody,” thought I, without enthusiasm or conviction when I discovered this.

In a previous draft, I had disparaged that this website’s lack of frills had been the most glaring here, with the old text-heavy platform spiralling downwards without any in-page navigation.  Now, in a 12-page PDF, she has made it even more difficult to search through her platform; it’s not that searching is impossible, but doing everything through the costly interface of an embedded PDF file certainly hasn’t improved anything.  The PDF format does, however, make it more convenient to save, print, or view her platform full-screen.

Incidentally, the recently-denuded page still plunges to an impressive depth of over 3000 pixels.

Summation: The whole site is hospital-ward clean, with a conventional and straightforward layout; it’s easy and simple – but perhaps too much so.  The embedded PDF platform is a bulky to load and is also awkward from an navigational standpoint.
——

The splash page of Adam’s site has a fleeting resemblance to Logan’s main page in ideology if not execution.  The restricted colour palette, the minimal content, and the smiling candidate – it’s well organised, it’s clean, and it’s good.

It’s almost too good, actually.  With the large (‘shopped) shot of smiley Adam in a polo shirt (with the buttons undone, because even though he’s a serious guy, he knows it’s not all about business all the time), and that managerial logo, the feeling isn’t so much that Adam Fearnall wants to be your student president as that Adam Fearnall wants to help you through the process of selling your house.

The inner site gels pretty well with his decisively-established personal brand.  The #60BF93 teal makes for pretty much the only colour as the rest are variations of grey.  For a background image, he’s chosen the always-inspiring UC tower. Although, it might seem a bit outdated now that we’ve changed our logo.

The top menu is nice. It’s big and fat and obvious and shit lights up when your mouse hovers over it.  Very usable.  And if you’re trying to follow him on Twitter, you’re in luck: there’re about three Twitter links on every page.

As a mild criticism, it might have been more visually appealing to put a photo or two somewhere inside his site – I’m sure Jon Silver could have lent him one.  As it is, it comes across as somewhat barren.   It’s most apparent on the ever-popular “Join In” page, where that naked e-form is just crying out for an accompanying nice photo of Adam to reassure you that, yes, ‘us’ is a good group to join.

Platform layout:

I love it!  Well, in relation to the others, I love it!  His little web-gizmo breaks up what is a long platform into very manageable little modules.  It’s quick and responsive, and an arrow appears to tell you when there’re more of Adam’s ideas to come.  It’s easy to read his small bites of platform, and they’ve been divided into clear sections so that it’s easy to navigate through it.  Very good.

He might have included downloadable PDF like the others, to have his entire platform laid out in one place, but, realistically, probably no one downloads those things anyway.

They’ve even designed a nice ‘404 – Sorry! Not Found’ error page.  If you’re interested in seeing it, just head down to the footer and click on “Privacy Policy”.

Summation: Overall, this site is very well-done and makes for a smooth user experience.  There’s an element of the overly-polished corporate website to be found here (that is to say it’s very good, but a bit unimaginative), but it’s a small qualm of mine.  The platform layout I think is the most intuitive of the four websites.
——

Bam!  With a header like this one, there’s no way to misunderstand: you’ve arrived at the website of CLAIRE MCARTHUR.  It’s prominent, crimson, and wholly unambiguous.  There’re also a few social networks where you can find Claire – and if you Like, you can make it official.

Underneath we find the top half of a large banner, oscillating rapidly between four pictures. Claire’s in one of them.  The rest are red teddy heads, highlighting different aspects of her campaign–and also her video.  It all makes for a powerful introduction to the #bearnation logo.

Scrolling down, you can now read the captions to the pictures whizzing by, and – at last! – here is the site’s navigation.  It’s a contentious decision at best to put the menu so far down the homepage.  How many websites can you think of that require you scroll to the bottom before you can navigate their site?  There’s a reason the answer  ‘not many.’

Thankfully, the rest of her site puts the menu back on top, where one notices that it’s actually quite nicely done.  The little doodles and the ‘as-though-handwritten’ font used throughout the site are very ‘student-y,’ which is the angle Claire seems to be going for.

The menu simply vanishes on the “Blog” page though, which is a bit strange. Once you’re in her blog, there’s no way out except by returning “Home”.

However, I absolve her of her navigationally-related sins in this instance because Claire is the only candidate that regularly updates her blog – which, in my opinion, is a commendable habit to find in a student politician.

Platform layout:

Claire’s platform is also displayed as an embedded PDF file, which you can print or view fullscreen, and you can now download as well.  I haven’t yet, but you never know.

Reading through the platform on the embedded PDF is, well, a little unorthodox, and results in the same navigational problem I pointed out on Logan’s website (ie, get used to that right-hand scrollbar).  So, as the good, educated voter you are, your only option is to grin and bear it as you scroll through eight pages of campaign ideas.

Also, at the very bottom of the “Platform” page–under all of the mission statementing–there’s a short paragraph explaining why a bear is her chosen mascot.

Yup, that’s right: there’s just one short explanation at the bottom of one page of this iconified bear that appears on every bloody page of the website, not to mention front and centre on all campaign material.

I, for one, think it barely suffices.

Summation: The site is generally easy to use and the design reinforces the ‘student-ness’ of the candidate.  Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies with the navigation, and the explanation of that ever-present bear is buried within the site.  The PDF format for her platform isn’t ideal, but it isn’t impossible to deal with either.
——

Well, at least we know what Jon Silver looks like.  Whether he decides to wear his entirely blue wardrobe and makes sure he’s shaved yesterday or comes to school as a two-tone posterized head, we’ll recognize him a mile away.

Let’s just come out with it: the main page is beautiful.  There, I said it.  It’s a visual feast, with a picture almost custom-fitted to the average laptop screen. Well done.

However, the first time I visited this website, I clicked through three different pages before I realized that they contained any content.  (You have to scroll down).

Once you know that, it’s easier to learn “About Jon” or “Like” every single point in his platform.

Aside from being an arguably overwrought frame for his latest video, the home page isn’t overly helpful.  There are links to places where you’ll have the chance to “Like,” “Follow,” and “Favourite” Jon. But if you want any written content, keep looking.

The interior of the website is similarly alluring.  Its guillotine blade high-definition photos dominate pageloads, meaning that anything resembling information must be sought near the bottom.

The top navigation is pretty discreet and also very usable, but there is the occasional problem like on “The Campaign” page, where one-third of the menu vanishes into thin hair.

Invitations to Jon’s social networks are common on the right-hand side of the page, and they’ll begin to look more appealing once you notice his blog isn’t updated very frequently.  You’ll find several ways to contact Jon, and you can even “Take Some Action” if there’s no one watching.

Platform format:

The platform is divided broadly into four sections, and its formatting has been improved since the site first went live (it’s significantly more blue, for example), but it still gets pretty annoying constantly scrolling up and down to read it.

Unlike his rivals, Jon’s platform doesn’t begin with a quick summary of his points, so if you wanted to read about his proposed web tool to ask students a serious of questions, you have to trawl through everything until you arrived at “Get More Involvement” under “Community Building.” This can quickly get irritating.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the footer, which on most websites is an afterthought, is here very robust and full of links that lead to actual pages.  Yo dawg, there’s even a footer on the footer.

Summation: It’s undeniable that this site is an aesthetic success, but occasionally its beauty comes at the expense of functionality.  Perhaps the most obvious example is that no content is initially visible on any of the pages.  The platform formatting is broken up into four (still rather large) categories, and finding anything specific means Ctrl+F’ing about, but at least it’s not a PDF.

After summing up the websites in terms of usability and liabilities, I now put forth to you a reason this might be useful.
I believe that what an individual uses to represent him or herself reveals to us something of the person’s nature.  From the presence or absence of small errors on the webpage of a USC presidential hopeful, one might be able to infer whether the candidate is concerned with fixing details or whether they tend to pay more attention to overarching issues.  One may also insinuate whether each will be likely to keep us informed as President of the USC by if they just keep us informed during their campaigning.

Of course, a good website might only mean that this candidate has found themselves a capable web designer – but even here there is something to be gleaned: the ability to effectively delegate tasks is a valuable leadership quality.

Furthermore, and on a level decidedly less cerebral, one might make the argument that it is not uncommon for the candidate with the best website to win the election.  Indeed, one might elaborate, that is precisely what happened last year.

I make no endorsements, dear reader, and officially I’ll support no candidates.  I’ll not implore you to vote for him, her, he, or she, but I will ask that you do a little of your own analysis, and afterwards that you do vote for somebody.

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8 thoughts on “Line of Site: A USC President Web Critique

  1. I have known Jon Silver for several years now. He is a serial campaigner; his goal is to “sell” himself, and pad his resume along the way. His passion is not the students of Western; Jon’s passion is Jon. Unless you wish to buy into “Jon Silver™”, then I suggest voting for someone else; Adam Fearnall currently seems the best poised to win the election.

  2. Thanks for giving us a heads up and helping narrow the candidates. Last thing we need right now in our community is someone who doesn’t care what happens to our future.

  3. i would seriously vote for anyone BUT jon. His intentions are wrong, and he thinks having all the sophs back him up WILL MAKE HIM A BETTER USC PREZ…i see right through you JON SILVER! i will not fall for your BULL SHIT

    • Hello Brenna and the distunguised Mr. Burke,

      In a general sense, comments are a good thing: they mean that people are paying attention and forming opinions (hopefully their own) about things that they really should be forming opinions about.

      However, I would cautiously suggest that such flagrantly partisanship is perhaps a tad excessive–especially in response to an article that isn’t overtly political in nature.

      There are other, more politically-inclined articles on this high-quality blog, which might be more conducive to a level-headed political discussion. By way of example, my esteemed colleague Hadrian has written his own article (http://mitzine.ca/2012/02/12/opinion-three-ways-to-pick-a-president/) in which he even welcomes the opinions of potential contrarians.

      Thanks for the comments–but you know there are some children reading this blog, and we really shouldn’t be teaching them such naughty words.

  4. Very moving and well written opinion “Brenna.” I’m concerned that it really doesn’t hold much weight. Many people have known “JON SILVER” throughout his university career (full discloser: including me), and share my view that he has always been 1. kind, 2. welcoming, 3. a good listener. I remember he asked me what I wanted to get out of school in 2nd year because he sat on the Board of Governors… I responded with “???.” I had no idea, but the point is, he asked. Meet him!

    I think his website is fantastic. Jon is the most qualified (see Hadrian’s recent post on the Zine) and experience does matter, but people don’t want to hear that over and over. His website gives you a more personal look at Jon as a person, not as a resume (even though if his resume WAS his website, it would clearly outdo the other candidates’). I support Jon not because his website has too nice of pictures, or that his platform is in grey font and isn’t broken into sections or whatever (i’m quite sure most students are Web 2.0 literate by the way, and could navigate through them well), I support Jon because in SECOND YEAR, he asked me what I wanted. I just think it’s the responsible and right decision to vote someone who genuinely cares about DIRECT STUDENT INPUT in the USC- and not because he said so during the campaign, but because he’s already done so throughout his history here. Ah, well that’s my 2 cents. “Brenna,” I in no way devalue your opinion, I just think it’s just a bit out of nowhere.

  5. Pingback: Last day to vote, have your say! | mitZine Online

  6. Pingback: Last day to vote, have your say! — UPDATED | mitZine Online

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