The Leeds School of Computing website has had a re-design and put simply, I don’t like it. I’m going to list the problems with it as I see them, and I guess we should consider this the beginning of a bit of a rant too….
Firstly, it is the school of computing and we write programs and code. Syntax should always be correct and well formed. This is not the case with the new site. While the code is well laid out when the source is viewed, there are HTML validation errors, not to mention invalid CSS. Also, shouldn’t we be using XHTML these days? I mean I can understand the old site using HTML, it had been around for ages, but this is all new, surely the coding standards should be up to date as well.
Then there is the URL it’s self. The school of computing had it’s own subdomain, comp.leeds.ac.uk This makes a lot of sense (seeing as the school of computing is an entity within the university), is easy to remember and provides a simple portal for staff and students alike. The new URL is engineering.leeds.ac.uk/comp so it seems an entire department with its own computer clusters which have their own hostnames ending comp.leeds.ac.uk now doesn’t deserve a similar place on the www and has been relegated to a sub-directory. Sure they may be using mod-rewrite and it may still be in the same location, but to us users it doesn’t really cut it – we liked our direct subdmain on the www!
Finally the look of it. We all have our preferences on looks, but the old one was very easy to read. Black text on a white background by default, and only one column of text, with links in ordered/unordered lists and positioned only where appropriate. The logo was also unique. Now there is no logo (just the Leeds one with School of Computing written next to it) and some of the layout is done using tables and the header and footer is done using images. The text is also not as easy to read in the default colours, the format on occasion being dark blue text on a light blue background. In this day and age this just isn’t on really.
Now I don’t want to put the backs up of the people who I’m sure have worked hard on these changes and indeed may still have teething troubles to iron out, but it seems to me the site just gives off the wrong impression of the school of computing; merely a sub-department of the faculty of engineering deserving only of a sub-directory on the www, and employing web designers who wouldn’t know correct HTML syntax and conventions if it hit them round the head.
I *know* this is not true having seen the work of these people in many other places (SIS being a shining example of both programming and web design), but the question is, do outsiders to the department? I think it is this question the webmasters need to ask themselves carefully. Yes the old site didn’t look “slick” or “modern”, but it served its purpose very well, had all the right content, was easy to navigate and easy to read. As I was taught in GI11 – these are the most important factors when designing a website, not slick looks – they should be secondary.
Rant over. I guess at this stage it is worth mentioning that despite the above negatives the pages do still open fine in firefox, respond to browser text size changes and load in lynx. I guess these are reasons enough to be thankful; lets just hope that these flaws are discovered by the web team and rectified, after all there are only 3 main issues and these are rather quick to fix in the grand scheme of things.