My last nerve

Three years ago, I was called upon to redesign the Web site of our company. We had a site made entirely in frames with sub-frames and weird naming conventions (urgh). I went in and stripped all that crap out, put a template-driven system into place, and wrote programs to convert the entire Web site wholesale. And I did it all by myself. (signed: Chris, age 4) In the end, we had a system which could be changed globally at a moment’s notice to keep up with trends. Lots of CSS and stuff, as I’m sure you’re gathering. Go ahead, gather.

After that, I started in on the design. My original idea was something bold and classic, tied together with a “stone and layers” theme (I work for a geophysical society) and a rather unique right-hand navigation scheme.

Then … it started going pear-shaped. First I made a mistake in trying to “shallow out” the site. Bear in mind the site is 7,800 static pages, divided in eight categories which I was told I could NEVER EVER CHANGE. One of these categories had a grand total of two pages in it. Another had over 3,000. Yyyyyyeah. So, clever idiot that I am, I found a flyout menu Javascript which would pop up the main categories for the bigger sections. This was great … until I realized that two of the sections had so many sub-sections that the flyout menu was longer than the screen. But, hey, the site could be changed with a touch, and this worked as an interim solution. Maybe someday I could convince them to make some major structural changes.

I am so damn stupid I’m surprised I haven’t drowned to death staring up at a thunderstorm.

Anyway, I did what I could, then put the design out there for all the authorities to see. This was … eye-opening. Y’see, I work for an association that’s run by committees. Lots of committees. Tons of them. And apparently, everyone on every one of those committees wants to be a Web developer.

So the design went this way and that way and suddenly all the managers got involved too and they all wanted their own departments to be extra special and AAARGH. It’s great when not even your own immediate supervisor will go to bat for you, even when they claim to empathize, because they have as big an agenda as any of the rest of ’em.

In the end, the site design became a twisted mockery. You’ve heard the old saw that a camel is a horse as designed by a committee? What we ended up with is a steam-driven zombified yak that requires a team of puppeteers to fart. Everyone hated it. Everyone STILL hates it. Hell, *I* hate it, and I designed the damn thing. So hey maybe if they see how awful it is they’ll finally decide to change the underlying problems so I can finally make it useful.


It’s now three years past. Somehow the company has lumbered along with this travesty of Web design. I’ve done what I can, here and there, trying to stay under the radar. I’ve written report after report as to how we can best improve the site. Management doesn’t want to admit they’ve whined themselves into a corner, so those reports and presentations have gone nowhere. I’m frankly embarassed by what we have, and given half an ounce of leeway I’d happily redesign the site and make it world-class. Alas, corporate inertia.

Today an internal committee, of which I am not a part, met with a prospective vendor for a new Web site backend in an initiative which they expect will take years and lots of money. I have no problem with this, because at last it indicates a willingness to finally come around. (I don’t think it requires a million-dollar initiative, but at this point I’m completely used to saving my breath.) They’ve been listening to vendors for the past two days. Big yawn. But today’s group included some Web designers who demonstrated some basic principles of design. Principles of design I was specifically told not to follow by a dozen committees and my own boss(es) three years ago. And apparently they ate it up, it’s a whole new paradigm, it’ll turn our company around, our current designer is a wart on the ass of any of these fine gentlemen. Excuse me while I go spit on the lump of flesh who made our Web site. What a talentless waste of perfectly good carbon.

So how was your day?

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