I was looking for a pasta sauce to make for dinner when I stumbled across the Every Day with Rachel Ray website. I’d seen lots of her recipes online before, but they were always in some kind of recipe aggregator. This was the first time I’d been exposed to the magazine’s web presence in all it’s unholy glory.
I dove right back in to Hack Design this week, so my thoughts have been more design-focused than normal. Yesterday, I watched a video where Jason Santa Maria gets philosophical about using type in web design. Then, this afternoon, I was directed in my study to this cool Chrome extension called WhatFont that reveals which fonts are being used in a particular website. It’s been pretty enlightening.
In my day-to-day work, I’ve been working a lot on a software development project, so design has suddenly become incredibly relevant to me. I’m trying to develop a tool that people will want to use. That’s not easy. My lack of confidence in my own judgment lead me to create a tool that people can customize to their liking. Rather than deciding on fonts and colors and images myself, I’ve opted to let them make their own mistakes (or masterpieces). I think that was a wise decision. That said, the thought process that went into that exposed a serious deficiency in my own skill set: I am not a good designer.
Because I like to fix things, I’d like to fix that.
So my plan here (and let’s see if I follow through) is to take a stab at critiquing the design of some of the things I encounter in the hope that I might cultivate this neglected skill set. I reacted strongly to the Rachel Ray website, so I thought that might be a good place to start.
According to WhatFont, there are two typefaces at work on this website: Georgia and Arial. These two typefaces are commonly used together on the web. Arial is a very versatile sans-serif font with many different styles (the site in question uses the “regular” and “black” variations). Georgia is a serif font that was designed for use on computer screens, so it renders very well at various sizes. There is nothing wrong with either of these fonts, really. But I find that I personally don’t like how they’re used here.
The homepage uses the two Arial variations and the Georgia as headings, which does a lot, I think, to disrupt the obvious heirarchy of the fonts. Subsequent pages that actually feature body text don’t suffer from this, as they use Georgia as a heading and Arial as body text; these look fine. The homepage, though, looks cluttered. All of the typefaces are used as headings with varying weights, so my eye doesn’t naturally know where it should be looking. It feels overwhelming and confusing.
If I were to do something to fix the font issue on this site, I would start by limiting it to the use of either Georgia or Arial for headings, but not both. I understand that the varying fonts are supposed to grab the user’s attention, but everything on this site is trying to do that. In a perfect world, I think the homepage would have headings only in Arial Black and would reserve the Georgia/Arial Regular combo for actual copy.
If a site isn’t usable, the aesthetics don’t really matter that much. This site is very difficult to use. Every time I click a link, I am hit with at least one pop-up ad (but more often two). I can only assume that the company responsible for this is hoping that people will get frustrated using the website and will opt, instead, to subscribe to the magazine. They certainly make simple navigation a chore.
This leads me to question the purpose of the website. Initially, I thought it was simply the web home of Rachel Ray. After closer inspection, it seems more like an electronic rendering of a magazine. It is very clearly ad supported, which is kind of nuts considering the chef’s popularity. What’s worse, though, is that most of the ads seem to be selling the product the website is supposed to already be delivering. It’s selling itself in a never ending loop. It’s like having someone introduce you to a cool guy who simply keeps telling you how cool he is rather than actually being cool.
To fix this problem, I’d say that the Every Day magazine should serve a different purpose than the Every Day website. The company should cut out the ads and develop a clear focus for the site. While it’s true that the company wants to sell magazines, I argue that an annoying, intrusive website doesn’t do that. I think a more user-friendly companion piece makes much more sense. Perhaps select recipes should only be available in the magazine, or, even better, maybe there could be a cool “members only” area for magazine subscribers. Anything to get the ads out of the way and make navigation of the site easier would be an enormous improvement.
The last thing I want to comment on is the site’s layout. As I mentioned above, everything on this site screams for the user’s attention. This is one of the common missteps I see in library websites all the time- we think that by calling emphasis to the new database or public program we’re going to get more eyes on it, but, in the process, we forget about the fifty other things we’ve emphasized in the past week. The result is an ugly hodgepodge of images, movement, and text.
This site needs to be trimmed of its excesses:
- the ad-filled header image is sandwiched between two navigation menus
- the slider is positioned too closely to sidebar advertisements
- the useful components of the sidebar are obscured by advertisements
- the subjects of body content have no obvious organization
- too much information is being presented
By consolidating the navigation menus into one, it will be easier for visitors to find the things of interest to them. By adding a decent amount fo padding between content and advertisements, visitors will be less fearful about clicking anything. Eliminating the advertisements entirely will make it significantly easier to engage in simple navigation. Let that consolidated menu do some of the organizational work so that the body of the homepage doesn’t have to work so hard (and ineffectively). A focus on relevant and useful information will make more people return to the site than a flood of unorganized information ever will.
I’m hoping that with greater frequency, I’ll be able to better articulate what it is that I don’t like about the design that goes into different things. I hope I will be forgiven by readers for my scandalous interchanging of the words font, type, and typeface. Lastly, Rachel Ray, if you happen to stumble across this, you’re welcome.