The New SFWA.org Site

After living in 1996 for the past fifteen years, the SFWA.org site has jumped impressively into the 21st century with a new design that is functional, useful for members and casual visitors, and also but not trivially, pretty. It’s the most outward example of the revitalization that’s been going on in SFWA for the last year or so. Thanks for the pretty new Web site go to a lot of people, but I’ll note my pal Mary Robinette Kowal has been instrumental in getting things done, so be sure to go thank her and her crew for all their hard work.

Now, go! Visit!

27 Comments on “The New SFWA.org Site”

  1. Sufwa? Some cooking site? Or something to do with toothbrushes since MRK is involved?

  2. Just saw a familiar face with a dirty beard and a camera in his hand on the page.

    Both my Chrome and Firefox can’t fit the page on a 1024 pixel wide screen…. Otherwise looks good….

  3. I just wish they’d jump back to the 20th century and stop sending me HTMLizezd email. :(

  4. Yeah, the new site (kept track of it while in beta) actually has me thinking about “Gee, can’t wait until I qualify for membership” again. Not only is it cool looking, but it has great content.

  5. Holy crap: that site is an unmitigated usability disaster.

    If they paid one penny for usability services, I’d demand it back.

  6. Plus for the nice menu. Minor minus on using so much space for “featured” content that never goes away. Major minus for the fixed width.

  7. 2009 – 15 = 1994 so for two of the years the site was up it was quite visionary.

  8. I don’t like it. It’s *cluttered*. The blue section on the left is actually *two* sections of content, not very well separated. And way too much top loading before you get to actual content. I’m glad I’m not on a netbook.

    This is not a geek’s website. It looks to me like a freshout marketroid’s website, one who hasn’t learned her human factors yet.

    And, yes, Mr. Fagan (#4), HTML-only email == FAIL.

    Sign me,
    mutt user

  9. 1) The fixed width is ok, but a bit wide for some. 960px would be a more reasonable choice. But most sites are fixed width these days since all modern browsers zoom the site in and out (though obviously there’s a font size implication there)

    2) The dual sidebar setup doesn’t bother me that much but there are too many menu items in the far left sidebar (some which ideally only show up for members). You could use jquery to collapse/expand those and save space. I’d use a bit more contrast too as everything’s a very similar blue.

    3) If the intent is for the Featured stuff to change regularly I’d use a magazine style layout vs the more blog oriented design.

    4) They don’t let you choose between HTML and text email? Odd. I prefer HTML since, if they’re well-designed, the layout helps the IA. I don’t read email on a mobile though. And please don’t talk to me about the few extra bytes being an imposition on bandwidth…

  10. Technoshaman @ 12: You nailed it. It’s as if someone wanted to shove as much stuff as they possibly could in the top screen.

    What it looks like to me is what happens when designers go amuck without an IA or UX person to rein them in: something that looks incredible but is outrageously unfriendly to actually *use*.

    Rick @ 13: If you use HTML, you’re at the mercy of how the reader’s e-mail client views HTML. Add to that the fact that Outlook and Gmail (two very popular e-mail clients) do not show images by default, and I’ve been telling clients for the longest time to avoid images in e-mail.

  11. It reminds me very much of J.K. Rowlings’ website. The coffee cup, the notepad, everything.

  12. The site is a bit cluttered, but I think it works a hell of a lot better then the old one did. In fact, I would argue that a bit of clutter is *needed.*

    One of the problems facing SFWA was answering “who are these people and why should I join?” Well, listing down one side of the main page every major committee answers that question. Another question, asked by members, namely “what are you doing to promote / help ME?” is driving the featured writer / book sections.

    Meeting all those competing needs is going to lead to a little clutter – but better clutter than acres of white space.

  13. BTW – as far as the web page itself goes (not talking about the emails), there is a button in the blue section for Plain Text Version.

    Dr. Phil

  14. Joe,

    Yes, I know. But you can alos set Gmail to always show images from a given sender and even if you don’t, the styling of the text can make the mail more organized. Plus, honestly, I’m not very sympathetic to the ‘oh, the command line, plain text emails etc are bets’ viewpoint.

    ON usability – this has the look of a first rev where the client didn’t want to change the IA much. There are too many menus, too many menu items and a different design would clean some of that up. But this is a big improvement over where the old site was and it’s CSS based so it should be easy to iterate on.

  15. 20 rick: re: command line is best: I’m not either (even though it is. At least, there are things that can only be done, or can be done by far the best, on the command line). And yes, if you’re good and careful, the styling can help (although I do note that editors like double-spaced unjustified normal-fonted text. Can’t imagine why). You, I’m sure, are good and careful. You and about 40 others.

    The other million or so people? Too much crap being sent in html mail. Stupid fonts, crazy colours, 40kb “signature” jpgs, never mind all the games that spam emails play (and some do get through).

    The reason to not send HTML email is that damnit, it’s my inbox, and my eyes, and if I choose to read it any bloody way I want to, I will. And if it has to be pretty and happy and everything else the way *you* want it, either one of two things:

    1) it does. That’s what PDFs are for. Write in the email why you’re sending me a page-formatted document, I’ll read it.

    2) it doesn’t. So my blind friend won’t bother to read it (as html really does wonders through screen-reading email programs), and neither will I.

    There should be an option, is all I’m saying, and the default should be “if it doesn’t need HTML, don’t send HTML”.

  16. Chris @ 18: This is a common fallacy about sites, especially home pages: the idea that if we cram a lot of stuff on a page, people will be able to find what they are coming there for. What studies have shown is that people become so overwhelmed with choices they can’t figure out what they should click on, so they simply go away.

    What do you want a user to do when they visit that page? Join? Donate? Make it super easy to do what you want them to do. The best example of all is Woot!, which puts the “I want one” button right on the home page as big as all outdoors: the only thing that takes up more real estate is the image of the item itself.

    Let’s say that we want to join SFWA. From that home page, there are two links that go to the application form: the purple box on the right with black text on it (a visual nightmare) and an item in the middle of the menu bar on the left. Neither jump out at you. Your eye doesn’t go to either place unless you’re deliberately looking for it.

    I blurred the home page to the point where the body text is unreadable, and that page becomes a disaster: an overflow of text and images with no breathing space.

    Dr. Phil @ 19: two huge problems: the link *doesn’t change the home page,* so when you click it, you think nothing has happened. And there’s no way to undo it: once you click, every page becomes “plain text.”

    Rick @ 20: I have an entire presentation on e-mail marketing, and I have my “worst of” files that show what happens when you depend too much on graphics. Too many people want to make sure that everything looks *exactly* like that print piece they just approved, and since you can do that with a boatload of images, no one protests. Then, when the e-mail response rate is non-existent, no one can figure out what the problem is.

  17. html only mail is fine. Any mail with no text and an attachment is automagically binned. It’s a convenient way to avoid morons.

  18. Oy . . . after trying to learn all of the internet shorthand (lol, rflmao, brb, afk, l8r ….) I am now confronted with an organization that, if you take the word NEW into account, bears a striking resemblance to an acronym for websites that are Not Safe For Work.

    Reminds me of a church who tried to be “hip” and came up with the Worship Team Formation group so they could educate people on liturgy and constantly referred to it as the WTF group.

    Was the term “Science Fiction & Fantasy AUTHOR’S Association” (SFAA) not available?

    Just a thought from a borderline luddite priest.

  19. Well, yeah, the NSFWA might be – interesting, but in general who wouldn’t want to send people to the suitable for work association?

    Unfortunately, I tend to twinge at anything that matches ??AA. So I’m not sure that would help.

    Seriously, though: SFWA: founded in 1965. NSFW web sites? Well the first one I found (which was a USENET picture aggregator): 1993.

    I, too, have giggled at some of our church’s acronyms. Fortunately, there are now enough in the planning stages who have some web experience that they catch most of them now.

  20. Joe – HTML mail doesn’t imply a lot of graphics. Offering it as an option is fine. I’d offer text-only as an option too myself.
    I agree with you that there’s too much on the page. I am betting this is a client failure vs a designer failure though. In most cases like this that I’ve seen it’s “The home page has to have all of the information we currently have” so the designer has few options. What should be done, of course, is to revisit the purpose of the site and of each page type and then to redo the IA. THEN design.

    Oh and re: styling and badly done HTML emails – that’s not a fault of the format, that’s poor execution. Criticize an email for being poorly done, but don’t say “OMG HTML EMAIL>>>>>”. Nicely styled text with minimal or no graphics can be far more readable and effective than a mass of plain text. If you insist on plain text for ideological reasons, well…