Party like it’s 1999
This week, I found myself in a situation that I still can’t quite believe. I was given the project of putting together the user interface for taking online donations to the university. The vendor was already chosen and the software paid for by the time I was called in, so I had to figure out a way to make our main web site interface with this vendor software. (I’m going to be responsible here and not refer to the vendor by name. However, if you find yourself evaluating fundraising software and would like to know the gory details, drop me a line.) After spending some time looking at the software I realized that this was another situation where I was going to have to consider a user experience that doesn’t completely suck as a major victory. To begin with, the mark-up lacked a doctype and character encoding, which I guess really doesn’t matter because it’s invalid no matter how you slice it. It is also loaded with
tags and inline CSS, random parts of which I could change to “customize” the site for our university. But the worst part was that the software nowhere allowed for custom text to explain the process to the user, global navigation, or even a custom link to a help page. We were expected to send the users, _who are trying to give us money_, off into a confusing abyss on the vendor’s server where they have no idea what to expect. They are then presented with a series of forms with no clear explanation and no feedback as to where they are in the process of completing the donation. We were also expected to send the users, who again **are trying to give us money**, into an graphically amateur site with no institutional branding, that violates our own graphic standards, not to mention every other web standards out there. I figured I must be missing something, so I called the product rep, who informed me that there was no way for me to change any of the html, add links, customize text or add styles. After weighing all the various tag and inline CSS customization options, I determined that the best solution was to set up the donation pages as…. frames. At least then I could include some branding, help, and navigation for the users. I had to accept the fact that the site wasn’t going to be valid or accessible— as Derek said, “Garbage in, garbage out”. The best I could do was build some less crappy stuff around the really crappy stuff. It has been so long since I’ve used a frameset, that I couldn’t remember how to do it. Then I figured…. hell, if I’m going to regress, I may as well do it in style. So I fired up Dreamweaver and let it build the suckers for me. I swear, sometimes I think all I do is triage. I get tired of making sites less bad. Maybe someday I’ll be able to set my sights higher than “at least is doesn’t completely suck…” The project launches on Friday, and you will be able to see my frames in all their glory. This one is going right in the portfolio— filed under 1999.