Web Mender

An incessant whine on web design.

March 31, 2002

Alarm Will Sound

A musical group redoes their web site with surprising application of some of my previous suggestions, but they've strayed in so many other ways. And no, I don't think they read my original remarks.


Alarm Will Sound has a new look. They've ditched most of the graphics and gone for a far more sensible color scheme. The black text on a burgundy background is still hard to read, just in case you thought they'd given up on poor color choices. They also abandoned the splash screen, an excellent choice. Dog forbid anyone should see content when they first arrive at a site!

The worst offense in the new design is the addition of frames. The logo is one frame, the navigation bar is another, and the content is the last. The text-only page that saved the old site from being completely foolish is gone. Linking to individual pages is now impossible, as none of the frames have the links necessary to move around the site without having gone through the home page. Printing is now more difficult, and the resulting pages will have less context for someone reading them later.

The navigation bar is now, mercifully, text. Sadly, the links don't change color when followed, denying the user of one of the web's longest-standing navigational aides. In classic newbie style, the navigation bar has a link to a page that just isn't there yet. Would it be so hard to not add the "Reviews" link until there were actually some reviews to which to link?

Little attention has been paid to the main descriptive text on the "home" page. One of the quotes strikes me as a back-handed compliment. "These are musicians to watch" reads like a subtle jab at their non-visual performance skills.

The performances page starts with the performances farthest in the future, and has no delineation between the present and the past. This is stunningly impractical for anyone who might actually want to attend the next performance. Little logistical details like what time the concert starts and how to acquire tickets are absent, which demonstrates that the audience is simply not important to the site's creator. Speaking of the creator, I notice that the contact page no longer has her email address on it. No feedback from you!

Well, I suppose it's a few steps forward and a few steps back. Better luck next site, Alarm Will Sound!

Review of the old, neon design:

Alarm Will Sound is a talented bunch of musicians whose common thread was the Eastman School of Music. They've managed to get themselves recorded and booked a few times in spite of a name that is either a bad joke or a demonstration of just how seriously they take themselves.

I must first address the color scheme. I can say two nice things about it: the colors are coordinated, and they're dark text on a light background instead of the ever-so-popular we-want-to-look-arty opposite. Sadly, the colors are eye-bendingly bright. If they'd added some texture to the neon backgrounds, I'd feel like I was reading an early issue of Wired.

I'm not sure what the idea with the blocky graphics is. Technology has progressed way beyond the ANSI graphics of BBS systems in the Eighties and Nineties. It was an interesting compromise then, but it's hideous now. The words in the graphics are hard enough to read by virtue of being in all caps, but the overly-pixelated text is a headache in the making.

The AWS site's first page has the single best feature: a link to a text-only page with all of the site's content in one easy-to-read place. Sadly, the text-only page is only available from the front page, and none of the site's other pages ever link back to the front page. If you pass it up the first time, you'll be using the back button to get back to it.

The AWS site consists of very few pages, which should make navigation a snap. Unfortunately, the navigation is all done with graphics. Graphics for navigation deprives the reader of one of the best features in graphical web browsers: breadcrumbs. The color change of a link lets the reader know where they have and haven't been yet, and makes them less likely to accidentally lead them to a page they didn't want more than once. In a curious move, the navigation bar always omits the current page. This is disorienting because, coupled with the lack of link color change, users can't reliably tell where they are in the sequence of the site's pages. They may remember that they clicked on the second one the last time, but the third one is not necessarily the "next" page for the site. In another strange move, the button for the contact page is in a slightly different color. This would usually signal that the page currently being read is the contact page, further making the user unsure of where to go.

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The members page links the names of the artistic, managing, and web directors to the contact page. I would expect them to lead to biographical pages, especially for the artistic director. I think it's optimistic of the webmaster to rank herself as more important than the production board, especially since AWS doesn't seem to have any goals for doing interesting things with the Internet.

Is it me, or is the phrasing on the projects page a little strange? There's a bizarre adherence to the present tense for events both in the past and in the future.

I know Usability Alarms Were Sounding throughout my visit to alarmwillsound.com, but perhaps they will wake up and eliminate everything but the text-only page, a far better match to the practical, info-gathering desires of the audience than the absurdly stylized mess they have now.

Posted by ventura at March 31, 2002 06:24 AM