Learning to Love the Publication Redesign

Mike Davidson has a great post up today about the recently relaunched ESPN.com that has been getting a fair amount of attention as of late.

Given his past relationship with the site it seems that he should be involved in the discussion if anyone. I’m a regular reader of ESPN.com and other sports sites but the whole sports segment in general has seemed a bit hyperactive in terms of experience, I have never paid much regard to the design of these sites. For me the interaction was mostly with the content.

Mike’s design review is very astute and dead on in almost every case. However the best things about his review extend beyond the ESPN realm and into the experience realm in general.

First is the concept of judgment by improvement. Almost anyone who has participated in a large scale redesign has had instances where things fell a little short in the end. All the stakeholders, research data and legacy issues will inevitably lead to compromise. Sometimes this is much more than we (I) would like, but it’s a fact of life. Unless you are willing to scrap everything – a bad idea for a publication site – you will be much happier with your work if you learn to look at it in terms of improvement and look at how far things have come. I would extend the argument that major media sites will always fall short of perfection to all websites. Somewhere someone will hate it. Sometimes that means you. I can count on a single hand the number of times a client has given the OK to trash everything from the infrastructure up and rebuild it all – even then we had a major task with converting legacy content to a new system.

Secondly, is the concept of design degradation. Any site that is continually updated over time by even a small number of people will be subject to some experience decay. No matter how rigid your standards and style guides are this is inevitable. Throw in the element of timeliness and it gets worse. Throw in more people and you will exponentially increase the rate. This is a fact of publication. Business and editorial needs will always arise. Use the redesign as an opportunity to clean some of that off and make allowances to account for some variation in the future.

Lastly, is the issue of code quality. When I was doing a lot of front-end work I was a validation neurotic. I will admit that. I probably made the mistake of championing that a bit more than I should have. It is certainly a good thing to strive for, and I do it where possible, but with third party involvement this becomes almost impossible. As the information landscape of your publication site changes over time the validation issue will get worse. Major errors and missing close tags are one thing, but chasing down every loose ampersand and alt attribute is going to lead to a lot of gray hairs. Get to it when you can.