There should be a law that states any church talented enough to perform the Brahms Requiem is also talented enough to create an effective and attractive online presence. Along this line of thinking I’d like to throw-down this axiom: W3C XHTML 1.1 and/or CSS compliance does not automatically make a website easy to read and navigate. Such is the case with the website for First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Here is a site where the web designer is on the right track with minimizing bandwidth and unnecessary verbiage; however, both the category selections and the method of navigation need some healing. Let’s look at the last first … that is, let’s talk about the use of web <form> <input type=”buttons” …
The use of <form> elements for basic navigation not only creates an unnecessarily high level of maintenance complexity, but by default the buttons don’t align or size-up alike. It also strikes me that using a <form> where a hyperlink is expected can and will produce some annoying accessibility issues that might drive users away. It certainly makes bookmarking and/or right clicking to open a new window or tab a virtual impossibility.
I’m just speculating, but I see enough code behind the scenes to think this is not a matter of a person not knowing how to implement classic image button rollovers, but rather wanted to use buttons that looked and felt like buttons, but wanted them rendered as text. A good line of thinking, and if this is indeed the case, then I recommend this navigational issue be healed rather quickly and effortlessly using “The Amazing Rolloverer” CSS button generator by InkNoise.
Still, I’m not entirely comfortable with the information outline/navigational hierarchy. Sure, one’s organ is important, but is it frontpage news?
Interestingly enough, the solution to this problem can be found in the form of a sitemap/directory I found commented out of the code on the home page. Like the rest of the pages, it suffers the same kitschy 1998 backgrounds and color scheme, but looking past the obvious is the fact that this site has already been well organized, and contains compelling content. Talk about a lamp hidden under a bowl!
So how would I heal this website?
There is enough existing content already there, along with a reasonably effective (but commented-out) hierarchy that most of the heavy lifting already done. I would edit out navigational banners such as “click on back button to blah … blah … ” and would swap-out ambigious terms such as “website focalpoint” where exists is a standard term such as “webmaster.” Still, the bulk of the content is right under their noses.
Once this is done, all that’s left after this is the relativey easy work is packaging all this good stuff so users can navigate intuitively and not suffer eye-strain. The trick then is finding, buying and/or developing clean 2004 CSS-driven look-n-feel and that doesn’t get in the way or distract from the Church’s purpose and personality already well-stated in the content.
With template in hand, pages could be generated using any variety of open source or inexpensive database-driven web publishing tool such as WordPress, pMachine or Mambo. Depending on one’s sense of overkill and/or server situation, it might be too much to install such packages on the server and deal with a database. In those cases, using a product such as DreamWeaver to develop the pages, and then maintain them using Contribute 2 is a viable client-side approach.
I personally maintain Redland’s site using MovableType, which I’m able to smith into a CMS by having the Sokkit webserver toolkit installed on my home PC used in combination with TopStyle to tweak the CSS into place, but I digress.
The point is, just about everything that is needed to heal the First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge, Tennessee website is already there. That is, the substance is already there, now it’s just a matter of style.