Design and Look Taking A Back Seat
The Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU) is a non-profit society which promotes Internet development in Australia for the whole community. ISOC-AU is a chapter of the world-wide Internet Society
This is a site that clearly embraces accessibility as a key concern, stating right at the start that it supports international web accessibility guidelines – see http://www.w3.org/WAI/. Creating a site that is accessible is so important, not just so that disabled users can access the site, but also so that your message can get through to people no matter what computer, what browser, or what plugins they are using. The flipside of this is that accessible websites aren’t the most attractive of sites and can scream normality.
Accessible sites often means that a specific design or look has to take a back seat – text size, font, and hence layout need to be chosen by the user’s settings rather than the designer’s aesthetic sensibilities. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to create a beautiful and accessible site – it shouldn’t be an either/or situation – just that a lot more thought and flexibility needs to go into planning.
So, how does ISOC-AU stand up to these challenges? Design-wise, the site does look very ‘normal’ – a very simple HTML text-driven site using simple tables and anchor points and bog-basic links. The choice of colours compliment the logo, and the few photos used add a feeling of friendliness, though hovering over images with the mouse doesn’t reveal an .alt tag – this is a very useful function for blind users as speciaised browsers can be set to read out the image descriptions.
The design, such as it is, is consistent throughout the main sections of the site, but on further browsing you find pages and documents with different looks and uses of typeface. A great deal of information and resources are available and parity seems very important – meetings are minuted and accessible to all. As the site is text-based with lots of links, Google ‘spiders’ (the little mites the search engine giant uses to index pages) will love every page and is more likely to give it a good rating. Interestingly, the Society says that a similar method is used by spammers to detect email addresses and as a result, the ISOC-AU site shows all contact addresses as ‘bill(at)hotmail.com’ rather than ‘email@example.com.’ This is all well and good, though it prevents you from simply clicking on a link to email someone.
Navigation is available throughout the main headings, but clicking for more information often leads to another page with no navigation. There isn’t much ‘flow’ to the site, and it is easy to inadvertently skip to other sections. Unfortunately, as there is no breadcrumb menu (eg. Home > About Us > Objectives of the Society) and the section being browsed is not highlighted, so remembering where you are can sometimes be difficult – especially when clicking to a link for another, very similar looking site. Other solutions to this could be using frames or opening some content in a new window, however both these options have accessibility issues.
Sometimes a victim of its good intentions, the site clearly communicates what it is about from the start. The main sections work well, though on further browsing things can get more labyrinthine. Adding a breadcrumb menu would really help matters, as would a clearer structure and a site map. For a society focused on the internet, it’s surprising that an enthusiast hasn’t created a more effective site.