Well the day has finally arrived. It’s election day here in the UK and possibly (barring a hung parliament) an end to the campaigning that has dominated the media for the past few weeks. I don’t blog about politics and I’m not going to start now. Nor am I about to share any political views. What I will share is my opinion on the main party websites.
With the live debates and coverage across the internet, I’ve found this campaign to be quite exciting. The opportunity to interact with and question candidates has increased significantly and brought about a sense of openness that we haven’t seen before. This can only be a good thing.
After all the campaigning I returned to the three main party websites to make my final decision. It’s interesting to see how they present themselves and how they interact with the public.
The Labour Party website I found to be the least user friendly. The initial splash page gets in the way of locating information. You are presented with only a few options and have to hunt around for the link to proceed to the main site. This is not very helpful if you’re looking for something specific like policies on education or small businesses.
[Note: since starting to write this post three shortcut links have appeared at the top of the page. This helps a little but I still feel that the splash screen is intrusive and should be removed altogether.]
The internal pages are also a little confusing. I like the idea of the changing panels at the top of the page. However, the initial banner for ‘It’s your future, vote for it’ didn’t quite do it for me. It comes across as being a bit blasé and almost jokey. The calls to action on the right hand side are also not very clear. ‘Back the Ban’. What ban? ‘Save our Sure Start’. What’s Sure Start? We’re getting into mystery meat territory here. Even more confusing is that when you click on the Sure Start banner you’re diverted to a Facebook page where you’re asked to add your name to help the Labour Party save Sure Start. You are then invited to submit your first name, last name and email address. What isn’t clear is how this can help. What are they going to do with this information? How can it help their cause? Why should you submit your personal details?
I did however like their use of video under the Manifesto 2010 tab. Again they seem to have favoured an informal approach, which works well in this instance. The clickable links within the video allow you to skip to the policies that interest you most.
What is surprising about the Labour site is that their policy prompts appear towards the bottom of the page, suggesting that they’re not as important as the volunteering, voting and joining links. To be fair, they do appear as sub pages in the top menu but on election day when people are making their final decisions, surely this is vital information and not drawing attention to it is a bit of a wasted opportunity.
A well-positioned search box would be invaluable allowing you to locate information quickly and easily. This is missing from the site.
The Labour manifesto is well-presented. The design is clean and easy to follow, with information split into clear paragraphs and bullet points. It also allows the option of downloading and sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Policy information is not so easy to follow with large chunks of unbroken text stretching three quarters of the way across the page.
Content on the Liberal Democrats site is much clearer in terms of design and navigation. There’s no splash screen. As soon as you land on the home page you can navigate to all sections of the site. The layout appears more cluttered than the Labour Party site. However, the calls to action are clear, with the use of icons and explanatory labels. A search box in the top right hand corner allows quick and easy access to information and removes the need for browsing.
Policy information is easy to follow too. Text is kept to a minimum and is split into readable chunks. Large prompts direct you to related pages.
The Lib Dems manifesto page is set out into easy to read sections, allowing you the opportunity to read a summary, read online via e-book or download a PDF. Perhaps most interesting is the Lib Dem’s use of video on this page. You are invited to mix your own video by clicking on three options. The footage then plays in your browser automatically, tailored to your choices.
In terms of aesthetics the Conservative Party site has the edge. The colours work well and the home page is broken into clear, concise sections, offering different ways to access information. Like the Lib Dems site a search box at the top right of the page cuts out unnecessary browsing if you want to find information fast.
The Conservatives favour a similar approach to labour with a main banner and links on the right of the page. This works well but then they go and spoil it by making the second link all about Labour. I suppose you can argue that this is understandable, given that they’re fighting for Labour’s position, but all this back biting and sniping doesn’t appeal to me at all. Don’t tell me what ‘they’re’ doing or not doing. Tell me what you’re doing or going to do. I can make up my own mind and I’m far more likely to be won over by clear and honest arguments that highlight the positives than negative comment on the opposition.
Of all three sites the Conservative manifesto page is perhaps least appealing in terms of its overall design. However, like the Lib Dems they also favour an e-book version of their manifesto which works well. Audio and accessible versions of the manifesto are much easier to locate on both the Conservative and Labour sites.
The Conservatives’ use of video comes in the form of Webcameron and Conservatives.TV. Their bank of videos are fully searchable with quick links to recent videos, most viewed or alternatively you can view a full list. Where they go one step further is providing related videos which change depending on what you’re viewing. Social media links allow you to share content on your networks.
So, there you have it. A quick run down on the main party websites. I’m a huge advocate for substance over design fluff. But I wonder what effect these sites have had on voters, in terms of clarity, ease of use and portrayal of their message?