August 15, 2007
The city of Palo Alto recently launched a $240,000 redesign of cityofapaloalto.org. The response from the community has been less than enthusiastic:
So far, with this website as a great example, we have managed to create a image of a city that could be aptly described by Gertrude Stein, when she said about another city, "there's no there, there".
In all honesty, when I first took a look at the site, I didn't think it was that bad. It is simple, not cluttered and gives access to important information about Palo Alto. I agree with many who worry it doesn't properly portray the vitality and beauty of the city, but all in all I think they came up with a good, functional design that can be built upon. I'd start by replacing the images used for text (interior page navigation) with real text so those of us who don't enjoy reading 10pt fonts can resize the text as needed. A government website should definitely avoid image-based text because it must accommodate visitors of all ages and vision quality. There are accessibility guidelines for stuff like this.
As a web developer though, I can't stop at the visual design. I am compelled to see what's under the hood. So after a few minutes of clicking around, I decided the view the HTML source in my browser. That is where this website, IMHO, is a failure.
We Don't Need No Stinking Validation
The DOCTYPE being used on the site is HTML 4.0 Transitional. This is about as forgiving a DOCTYPE as you can use without just leaving a DOCTYPE declaration off altogether. Yet, as I write this, the front page has 5 validation errors. These are simple errors that should have been fixed before the site launches. I will freely admit that W3C validation is not always on your mind as you're coming down to launch day. But it is something you should always do before a site launches, just so you don't leave any embarrassing bugs for the world to see/experience.
But wait, there's more:
altattributes are missing on some images.
blank.gif, an empty image file, is used throughout the layout where text links could have been used.
- Some HTML tags are in uppercase.
- Some pages fail to render properly in modern browsers.
All of this points to one thing that particularly frustrates me. The city of Palo Alto spent a lot of money on an antiquated Content Management System (CMS) that spits out dreadfully bad code. After $240,000, I'd expect more and I'm not surprised that the residents of Palo Alto are upset.