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Ontario Campaign Sites:
Still Not Up To The Job

By Nardo Kuitert, UsabilityReviews.com
September 26, 2003

American flag
relating article:
Should Californian Campaign Sites Be Recalled?

Recently I published an article about the California Recall campaign web sites. With the Ontario election so close it only made sense to write an article about the main campaign sites in my own backyard too. It will be too late for these sites to make changes before the October 2nd election. The campaign managers for the 2004 federal elections however can prevent some of the pitfalls that I came across when visiting the Ontario campaign sites.

You can benefit from this article too. Some of the observations may very well apply to your own situation. How usable is your web site?

The main conclusion when you compare the Ontario campaign sites to those in California: many of the problems are of a similar nature, and can easily be prevented. So what are some of examples within the sites that are screaming for help?

Ontario PC Party (OPC) (www.ontariopc.com)
Something that I really can't understand: this site has hardly any information in French! No link called "Franšais" to be found. Several Californian campaign sites don't use the opportunity to sway the Hispanic population with Spanish pages. But this seems worse: Canada is officially bilingual. Only the Platform can be downloaded in French, and in many other languages such as Hindi, Mandarin or Polish. Apparently it doesn't seem important enough to have other pages translated as well. Merde.
Note (October 3, 2003): On election day I noticed that you can now choose "English" or "Franšais", but only on the site's entry (splash) page. This has only been there for a few days: before it just said "Click here to enter".

About 45% of Internet users have their screen set at 800 pixels wide. For all those people the link at the top right of the homepage will say "About Our S". Unfortunately the chosen design-technique doesn't allow visitors to scroll the (fixed) top and left-hand side of the site. I need to change my screen resolution to a larger width to see that it says "About Our Site".

The technique mentioned in the above paragraph is called "frames". Frames can cause many problems, but there is one more that I want to share in this article. Choosing the option "Show your support" will expand the left-hand navigation, forcing the frame window to create two scrollbars: a vertical one and a horizontal one. This means that on pages like "donations" the screen shows three scrollbars: two vertical ones, and a horizontal one. And most users hate to scroll if it's not absolutely necessary.
Click here for supporting screenshots.

Just a few other usability issues:

  • There is no evident "Contact us" with phone numbers or email addresses.
  • The homepage is so busy that hardly anything really stands out. Users might not see the forest for the trees. There also don't seem to be rules regarding the hyperlinks: some are dark blue (underlined), some pale blue (not underlined), some are in CAPITALS and most are not.
  • Links to audio files should be communicated more clearly (file size, download time) - especially for people with slower Internet connections.

Everything in Eves' campaign is about "Dalton: still not up to the job". The Dalton-bashing is in TV ads and Ernie Eves' keynotes. It's also all over the web site. The homepage even has a popup screen with this campaign statement. And that while popups are considered to be one of the most annoying Internet features.

And if you want to vilify someone, do it right. I noticed Daltons last name misspelled on the homepage: it's McGuinty, not McGunity!

Ontario Liberals (OLP) (www.choosechange.ca)
Introducing: Dalton McGuinty. This site has easy to find contact information, and the presentation of the candidates is very rich. After typing in your postal code you get all the particulars of your regional candidate, picture and all. The Ontario PC (OPC) has a similar feature on its homepage, but it is in a popup screen. And all that the OPC feature shows is a picture plus the name of the candidate; no views or background information. Not really enough to make an informed decision.

The choosechange.ca homepage communicates Dalton's views clearly, and is frequently updated. There is a prominent link to French pages: "Franšais". So there is nothing wrong with this site?

Well, there are some oversights - for instance in the French pages. The link to the "donations" page is in French, but the donations section itself is in English. There is no French privacy policy. Something else that French-speaking Canadians don't seem to need is a search box: only the English version has one!

Navigation through the site could be much more intuitive. The links in the main navigation are shown as faint white letters on a red background, and are hard to read. Blurry text in many images, like "the OLP plan", also strains the eye. Hyperlinks in the content are red, and not underlined. But not all that's red is a hyperlink: the (sub) titles for instance are not to click on.

For all us busy bees it's nice to see that the TV ads we may have missed on television are available on this web site. Based on the fact that TV ads' titles are red you would expect to be able to click on them. But we need to click on one of the two black "connection speed "options. The red "issues" just below the TV ads are clickable, by the way. Navigating the site would be a lot easier with more consistent color-coding.
Click here for supporting screenshots.

New Democratic Party (NDP) (www.publicpower.ca)
This site is very inconsistent. The homepage is designed for wide screens, of 1024 pixels wide. While this is the most used screen-width nowadays, the 800-pixel width is a strong second with a 45% user-share. It's too bad that almost half of the Internet population will only see half of Howard Hampton's face. Other pages are designed for 800 pixels-wide screens, or suffer from the famous 805-pixel wide syndrome: they are only just too wide, and force the visitors to scroll unnecessarily.

The page width is not the only thing that changes from page to page. The contact information is very hard to find: it's all the way at the bottom of the page in tiny print. And it's not even on all pages.

The navigation also changes from page to page. The inner pages have more choices than the homepage. It's a pity that this variety is not provided on the homepage: the most visited page of a site!

The lack of consistency within the site could implicitly damage the perception that people have about the organization behind the site: the NDP party and its leader.

French pages are provided. Unfortunately the homepage shows two different links: "site en Franšais" and the wordy"cliquez ici pour le site en Franšais". This is rather confusing, and just a "Francais" would be easier to scan. Both links by the way lead to a different site: www.pouvoir.ca. And for some reason this site doesn't have a link back saying "En Anglais". It's good to have a back button.

The design of the publicpower.ca site is rather loud. It uses black letters on an almost entirely orange background. This starts to irritate the eyes after a while. And maybe it's because I'm not 20 anymore, but I have a hard time reading the tiny faint letters in the navigation, especially when I enlarge my screen to the intended 1024 pixel-wide screen resolution.

It is not all bad about this site. The layout and navigation are clearly designed for this medium, where users scan the pages rather than reading them. The other two web sites are much less scannable. The site also loads fairly quickly.
Click here for supporting screenshots.

Conclusion
The main conclusion remains the same as in my review of the California Recall candidates' sites: many web designers could use a web site editor to look at the design through the user's eyes and recommend improvements. With a lot of subtle adjustments these three prominent sites would have made a much better impression on their visitors/voters!

There are many more improvements to recommend for these sites. I hope that my critique shows you that details can make a huge difference in a web site visitor's user-experience. I sometimes compare a web site to a driver's license: every time a web site does something wrong/annoying in the eyes of the user, it gets demerit points. If visitors can't find what they're looking for fast enough, the site receives demerit points. Some offenses are punished more heavily than others. And when you annoy the user too much (i.e. the site gets too many demerit points) it's all over. Visitors will leave, and they may not even be able to pinpoint why exactly: often the frustration built slowly but steadily.

They will have left without doing what the site owner wants them to do: contacting them, buying from them or signing up for their newsletter. Or in this case: deciding to vote for them.


Nardo Kuitert is a Web Site Optimizer with UsabilityReviews.com, a service provided by Ontario Web Site Optimization firm U-C WEBS. U-C WEBS helps web designers creating user-friendly web sites, and reviews existing web sites of organizations large and small. This article is based on quick and dirty reviews of the web sites mentioned. U-C WEBS also offers more in-depth expert reviews like the Homepage ScorecardT, consisting of 112-point inspections.


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