Or in this case, judging a candidate by their web design! Let’s face it – I am no political wag, and politics is something best left to other demagogues and zealotous pundits across the spectrum.
However, I can claim passable knowledge in double bass, and claim a rudimentary knowledge of web development design and development practices. Obviously I certainly can’t use my bass chops to judge this year’s candidates for president, although if one were to bust out a contrabass and wail out a rendition of oh, say the Koussevitsky Concerto in solo tuning, then I’d have vote for them just on principle.
But I sure as hell can embrace my inner fashion slave and get all up in their web design business! If nothing else, I can at least engage in the purely superficial practice of candidate analysis by using their primary online web presences as the basis:
- http://www.barackobama.com/ – PHP backend, which says to me: “I’m an open format, flexible, and I like to get things done.” Title tag reads “Barack Obama | Change we can believe in.” Great design, usable. Very ‘web 2.0’-ish design. What stands out: Quote that says “I’M ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.” First line of quote in all caps which we will see is overused later on, but here provides appropriate emphasis in the context of the quotation. While I generally don’t like to see drop-down primary navigation menus, these are done well and seem to server the text that is within. Only criticism is the most recent blog post in which they inserted 14 full-size images that were subsequently shrunken down in the display using HTML attributes. This is generally considered a bad idea. Please cut them down to an appropriate pixel dimension for the thumbnail versions and link back to the high-resolution copies. But that is more of a content management issue…
- http://www.hillaryclinton.com/ – ASP.NET, with a slightly disturbing marionette-like picture of Hillary, and the words in bold “MAKE HISTORY.” In all caps. For emphasis I suppose. Kind of a weak message if you ask me. It’s saying: “Vote for me, just because I’ll be the first woman president.” Drop-down menus seem a bit boxy and compartmentalized – I don’t find them to be as readable as Obama’s. Update: I check back the next day to find that they updated Hillary’s site with a new, vastly improved photo. Airbrush is your friend. Seriously – I have no problem with the airbrush tool in Photoshop and intend to wipe away each wrinkle in my own photo history as they occur…
- http://www.johnedwards.com/ – Appears to be static HTML. Design looks dated. Message says “Thank You, South Carolina.” Color theme is not your typical palette. Here we have a sort of ochre/green/maroon/blue thing going on – a wider gamut than your usual red, white and blue political site.
- http://www.johnmccain.com/ – Running on an IIS server. Interestingly, trying any file extension other than .aspx yields the default IIS 404 error page, but when using a .aspx, we get the “intended” 404 page with the site chrome. Noticed this problem on Hillary’s site too. I’m a fan of monochrome color schemes, so I had a soft spot for the site when I hit their splash page. (Why do all these sites insist, in 2008, on using splash pages still?) But the soft spot faded quick when I came to the home page and got overwhelmed with boxes, sliding pictures, a scattering of instances of “click here!” and “learn more” buttons, and a giant smiling McCain holding a mic. Message: “Best Prepared to Lead on Day One.” (Using smallcaps, for slightly less emphasis than all caps I suppose.) But for a minute I thought the site message was “click here.” This page has some nice b/w treatment. Overall I find this site to have an overabundance of head shots – maybe scale it back 50% or so? I get saturated by it – front, left side, right side, repeat.
- http://www.mittromney.com/ – Server is running Apache Tomcat and appears to be servlet-driven. Slogan: TRUE STRENGTH FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE. You alpha male you. Center image advertises “Limited Edition Mitt Romney T-Shirt Designs” that suspiciously look like André has a Posse stencils. Right action box has the heading “TEAM MITT,” which I subconsciously took to read “dammit” for a minute there. Like the Five Brothers section overall, although they really need a sharper JPEG for the banner.
- http://www.mikehuckabee.com/ – IIS server. Same 404 problem as McCain and Clinton. Not sure why this is hard on Microsoft web servers – should not all not found pages get the same treatment. Site uses Scriptaculous and Prototype, although I didn’t see any use of these in my cursory glance. Overall not a bad design. Oops – just saw the tagline in the right banner: “FAITH. FAMILY. FREEDOM.” I smell erosion of the 1st amendment separation of church and state and must flee far away from this site…
- http://www.joinrudy2008.com/ – PHP, and overall not a bad site design. His site doesn’t use his first and last name. The site rudygiuliani.com appears to be controlled by a domain squatter. Anyway, the home page renders an embedded Flash video with Rudy’s portrait in the still image, and I’m immediately reminded of something: Rudy looks like a mortician from one of those wild west flicks – the gaunt, hunchbacked undertaker in a long coat and stove-pipe hat. By now I’ve noticed the ubiquitous box in the lower right of each candidate’s home page that is used for linking to their MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and whatever presences. Looking at the home page, I don’t immediately have a message to take away. Every other candidate seemed to have one engraved in text somehow. I was shocked there was no typographical mention of 9/11 mentioned. To get Rudy’s message, you need Flash and have to run the home page video (a feature he relies upon site-wide). OK, once we run this, I see the familiar harping on terrorists and 9/11 that we all know and love from Rudy’s talking points. Rudy’s blog is all video posts, which is kind of odd and probably not that friendly to search engines or people scanning for messages.
- http://www.ronpaul2008.com/ – PHP, and not a bad first impression for the site design. In fact, we get a meta tag generator attribute that tells us they use Moon PHP MVC framework. Has a Web 2.0 feel to it, although we feel a bit cluttered on the home page. Ron’s tagline is “HOPE FOR AMERICA.” Glad to see at least one candidate on the Republican side has moved beyond wrapping themselves in a flag and thumping on a bible. Join Campaign page has appropriate use of fieldsets which is a nice touch. But what’s this? Under the “The issues that most concern me in this election are:” fieldset, we have a checkbox entitled “Pro-Life.” Obviously this campaign is prepared to exclude the pro-choice camp from having a voice here. Pro-life is not an issue, it is a position on an issue.
Well that was an eye-opener. It is mind-numbing when you have to pay attention to these wingnuts for only a few minutes. It is interesting to note the similarities between many of the sites – the general layout, the features they all place in their sites and on the home page, and how they treat color and typography. The quality of the various sites overall was good, but not really that great. I have to say, for my tastes Obama’s site is by far the best of the crop. The design is there, the usability is there, it nails the design trends of 2007 on into the present, and has the best treatment for features, typography, and messaging. On the Republican side, I have to say that Ron Paul’s site is best, but I’m still having trouble getting past the semantics for that one checkbox issue. Of the three main democratic candidates, I noticed a sense of overall inclusion and positive attitude. On the Republican side, with the exception of Paul’s and somewhat on Romney’s site, I got the feeling that they were trying to convey a sense of “this is what we believe and how we’re going to do things – end of discussion.”
Interestingly, I was surprised to see that all of the ASP.NET/IIS websites failed to have a good 404 error page behavior. And overall, the PHP sites seemed to be coupled with the highest-quality page designs and content structures, although correlation does not equal causation as the whole pirate to global warming trend so effectively illustrates.