Here’s the new site that Dr. Tom Hapgood’s web design class created for a local charity.
My writing class got to help, too. We happened to be working on research at the time, our sample topic was happiness, and we had been reading articles claiming that doing good works on a volunteer basis made people happier. Tom needed some help on this pro bono project, and we had a ready-made experiment.
Beyond research, it was also an eye-opening experience for my students. The old homepage is below right. The difference in the visual effect is striking at first glance: the site was simply messy. The students gazed at it in dismay when I asked them to identify the main point of the website.
Have you ever tried this experiment with your own site? It should be easy. You should be able to tell right away what the website is for and what you want people to do there.
The charity site was very unclear. I, having read quite a few papers without clear main points in that class, reveled in the way the students glowered at the website as they tried to discern what it was for.
It was true. On the homepage, there was a random collection of announcements and slogans to match the random images. It’s possible that the homepage was the easiest thing to update, or that the site owners figured all new information should be on the home page so it would be easy to find. Whatever the reason, the effect was like a house with a table inside the front door where people deposit mail, keys, shopping, roller skates… whatever they have in their hands as they walk in the door.
We pulled out all the content from all the pages, figured out what it was saying, sorted it all out, put it back together into a sensible format, and wrote the home page.
This is what you should do for your website if you have any uncertainty about the clarity of that main point.
As for our research, we did in face find that the students were happier after finishing the project than they had previously been. Whether it was the glow of doing good works or the satisfaction of having written something with a clear main point we don’t know.