“The ‘art of presentation’ transcends technique and enables an individual to remove walls and connect with an audience to inform or persuade in a very meaningful, unique moment in time.” Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen
When working with our students recently on website evaluation, it struck me that they weren’t taking blogs all that seriously as sources, much to my surprise, even though as writers, our mission is to communicate a clear and persuasive message. And interestingly, I discovered the reason they weren’t taking blogs seriously was all about design.
After a little reflection, I had to admit that students were on target in their evaluations.
We want to pack so much educational content onto our blogs, and badges and widgets, that sometimes when you look at them, they violate a lot of the criteria of good website design.
In addition to students, I’m wondering about teachers new to reading blogs (or wikis for that matter), and their reactions as they land on some of our blogs. Are they scared away by the widgets, gadgets, sidebars, etc. or can they easily discern what the blog is all about and easily read it? If we design the blog only for our most expert colleagues, then we risk encasing ourselves in a bubble.
For me, part of reading anything, a book, a website–is its visual appeal. Are we being mindful enough as bloggers or site designers of that? We want to convey our message to our readers.
Web design is of course Lesson 101 for many of us, but because we are often speaking to colleagues in the loop, are we really considering the value of our blogs to the larger education community and how design and layout contributes to our readability and credibility?
Critical comments our students made in examining some blogs that caused them to discard the blog as a valid source:
- too many ads on sidebar discredited the blog
- too much clutter made it hard to discern what the blog was about
- when it’s hard to determine credibility/expertise of the writer they discount the site
- when there’s no clear sense of the mission or point of the site
- as one student told me, ‘we just aren’t going to take time to look around the site and determine all this.” In essence, if a site doesn’t immediately look credible, if students can’t immediately determine what kind of site it is, then they are “outta there.”
Once I started reflecting on what students were saying, I realized that I often have the same feeling–I’ve visited wikis for fabulous projects but am befuddled at navigating them because there is so much on the site; or moved away from a blog just because there was so much text and clutter, even when I knew the content was good. So, what can we do as bloggers to make our sites more credible and to reach outside the “bubble” of colleagues who know our reputations?
Some of this may sound old hat, but based on feedback from our students, here are some ideas:
- Who do you want to read your blog? Just colleagues who know you? People generally interested in your field of expertise? The general public? This will make a difference in your design.
- Consider placing some statement of reputation/who you are directly on the front page, so the reader doesn’t even have to navigate to the ‘about’ page. Don’t assume they know what you or your site is about.
- Is there any sort of summary/indication or statement of the purpose of your blog or wiki site that is clearly stated for those who might have no idea and are “new to the scene”?
- Despite the temptation to load everything on the front page, consider Google’s simplicity.
Look at the text to open space ratio. Clean up some of the clutter.
- Use badges and widgets with purpose and in an attractive layout.
- It may even be worth it to state clearly that this is a wiki or a blog, embedded in your statement of purpose. It’s not so obvious to every reader, especially those inexperienced in reading blogs/wikis. Garr Reynold’s masthead on Presentation Zen does an excellent job of that.
- Do a trial run. Give your students or teachers a sampling of several blogs and listen to their comments (mix your own blog in there if you can). Get a sense of how they handle “blog credibility” or ‘wiki credibility’. It’s not only helpful in terms of analyzing your own blog design, but it’s very helpful to understand their habits when using these sources on the web.
If we want to be heard outside of our own ‘bubble’ and persuade our audience in “a meaningful moment” then don’t we have to make our online presence as accessible (and appealing) as possible?
Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen