Bad web site design
April 23, 2005 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Why do car companies and luxury hotels have a vernacular of aggressively bad web design?

Most web sites these days are pretty accessible. Yeah, you may have Flash intro or some poorly thought out Javascript navigation, but basically the site is a web site. HTML. By contrast, car companies and luxury hotels seem to revel in terrible site design. Whole sites are Flash, pages are slow to load and require you watch 30 second animations to get to the content, you can't link anything, and they have loud obnoxious music. Relais & Châteaux is a great example.

What's so special about hotels and cars that they have particularly bad design? I understand they're trying to create "an experience", but everyone else figured out long ago their customers didn't want that. Is there a different culture of site designers for hotels and cars? Do they just hate their customers?
posted by Nelson to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
They're trying to create an experience, they're used to being in charge, and they're cheap as all fuck.

(pardon my french.)

Generally, working with people who are in leadership roles at places that are as authoratarian as a car dealership or a luxury hotel -- where business is fast-paced, there's zero to no downtime for employees or managers, and there's a very big focus on creating that 'experience' and doing something 'special' for the customer -- are horrible to work with for creative types. So either you need to put a salesperson in between, which adds new and different problems, or you just need to kowtow to every single whim that the customer has and end up with a kludged together, poorly thought out website.

On top of that, there's very little margin in that business. You'd think that you could develop a great deal of margin, but in both categories of business, they're used to negotiationg very hardball-stype and doing stuff as cheap as possible. So every price objection that every customer has ever thrown at you will come up during contract negotiations. (I once negotiated and developed concept designs for two months for a dealership customer, and just ended up dropping them because they thought that I should just get the proprietary ASP code from their current web/host, whose business is hosting templated dealership websites, and just integrate it into their site. Why should they pay for me to redevelop what already exists? *bashes head against desk*)

To add to all of that, they end up dealing with the third-tier or clueless newbie designer/developers, because no one else will really chase their business. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2005

It seems like most products that are mass-marketed have Flash-heavy sites. Other examples: shoe companies and beer companies.

What is the motivation? I think these companies treat the websites as purely marketing. As such, marketing is handled by marketing firms, and they want to have complete control over the experience and sound and movement, just like on TV ads. Flash is much easier for this kind of thing.
posted by smackfu at 1:38 PM on April 23, 2005

And Gorilla Glue does the same. Annoying and nearly useless.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:41 PM on April 23, 2005

SpecialK has it 99% correct, but I'd add that I have met plenty high-end web designers who know jack shit about 1) minimizing download size, 2) user interfaces, 3) user browsing patterns. They haven't a clue. So they design a) with a single entry point in mind (this is what leads to big Flash splashes and is the result of assuming, stupidly, that most people enter by knowing the URL rather than as the result of a web search), b) as if the user will visit just once, c) as if site is more for advertising (brand-building, identity-promoting, etc.) than it is for informational purposes.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:08 PM on April 23, 2005

Yeah, what baffles me about these lousy sites is they look expensive. Lots of Ken Burns arty photography movement, music, relatively fancy typography. The sites often look great, but you just can't use them.

My question isn't just an excuse to rant. I'm wondering of there's a whole Bizarro world of high ticket web design that thinks these sites are a good idea.
posted by Nelson at 4:01 PM on April 23, 2005

Movie studios do the same thing. From their perspective:

100% artistic control: good
User experience: huh?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:22 PM on April 23, 2005

My wife has been involved in running websites for the past ten years [not a typo]. Quite frankly, the biggest cause of badly designed websites is that there is no user testing. It costs very little to grab a few users (even everyday employees can be adequate, at least as a first approximation), sit them down, and ask them to do a few things on the website (like finding the price of a room), while commenting (on speed, difficulty of navigation, confusing language, etc.)

I suspect that the biggest obstacle to this, other than simply lack of understanding that user testing is among the most important things in getting to a good website, is that management and web designers and others involved in the project think that they know what a good website looks like. (Or, worse, think that the people they hire, somehow, miraculously, fully understand what average users like and don't like, and how they will see and use the website.)

And, of course, it can be very humbling to design something (a computer program, an reference book, a website) and then discover that you were way too close to the problem (erroneous assumptions, expert knowledge) or (alternatively) not really a domain expert, or just simply aren't as good a designer as you thought.

Good writers still get others to read their drafts, as well as wanting a good editor to give feedback. Designers who think they are good too often don't bother to get (or don't want) anyone else's opinion (other than their client, if someone else is paying).

(The other half of website usability, of course, is understanding the hardware, software, and network connectivity - speed - that the target audience will be using, and testing on that, rather than using [exclusively] high-powered workstations, running all the needed client software, connected directly to the test servers.)
posted by WestCoaster at 6:04 PM on April 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I just did a search on your website to find the hotel we stayed at when we went to Seychelles a few years ago. I had no trouble at all getting the information that I'd need to book the room again.

I didn't have to wait for any animation to see the content, and the only flash was decorative. I heard no music, be it loud, obnoxious or otherwise.

The only problem that seems to apply is that search results are not linkable, but the rest of the site is.

If this is your best example, I think perhaps you've blown the problem far out of proportion.
posted by mosch at 6:20 PM on April 23, 2005

My question isn't just an excuse to rant.

I don't know, seems like an opinion of web philosophy disguised as a question. I visited the site you linked to and found no problem with it. It looked good (something I do consider an asset, especially for commercial sites in industries where image is important), and seemed to provide clear paths to relevant information. I don't think the use of Flash in the way it is used here is problematic at all.

I think the answer to your question is that different publishers have different priorities. The needs of car companies don't match those of standards obsessed bloggers. I see you work for Google, so there's nothing I can tell you about this that you shouldn't understand a thousand times more clearly than I do, and don't know who here is going to be a better source of information for you about this than the guy a couple cubicles to your left.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:34 PM on April 23, 2005

So, Mo, where does one go to learn all those things? Is there a nice book or more-or less central resource?
posted by fake at 8:18 PM on April 23, 2005

I don't have an answer to the question, but there's definitely (still!) incredible naivete out there regarding good web design -- specifically, Flash. When will these companies realize some of us are browsing at work on machines without root privledges, and WITHOUT FLASH INSTALLED, and an initial screen with no way to bypass a Flash-only intro means they've just lost a customer?

(The usual alternate link for to 'Install Flash now' is futile for me, at work -- "Permission Denied!" -- and I bet I'm not the only one, by a long shot.)
posted by Rash at 9:18 PM on April 23, 2005

TimTypeZed: I thought this was a good question, actually, and some of the answers were informative.

Rash: The web team at my workplace announced they would be doing a "flash clickable map" of the bus routes to the area, and asked if anyone had suggestions. Several other people and I suggested that they not use Flash.
posted by grouse at 1:01 AM on April 24, 2005

I used to build a lot of web sites for car-related companies, and with only one or two exceptions they were the worst clients I ever had.

They weren't interested in learning about the medium, researching the best approaches, giving a clear brief or making the most of the expertise they'd hired. It was all about choosing a few ideas on a whim, cobbling together any old content, and making sure you knew who's boss. I'm fairly good at carefully-yet-forcefully steering clients towards better ideas (although not as good in those days), but had to give up and just churn out rubbish.

To give you an idea of what I was up against - one client insisted that all the headings in the site had to be "like liquid metal, you know like in Terminator 2".
Another asked if I could put a "glossy layer" on the site like with the brochure, so it'd be shiny.
One threw a strop when I politely discussed missing content for the umpteenth time and said "oh just write we sell them any old shit and the engine'll drop out when they drive round the corner"; the temptation was almost unbearable...

Perhaps the industry has moved on and isn't quite as bad nowadays. I'd certainly love to get to produce a really good car site one day, if only to make up for all the rubbish.
posted by malevolent at 1:30 AM on April 24, 2005

They weren't interested in learning about the medium, researching the best approaches, giving a clear brief or making the most of the expertise they'd hired. It was all about choosing a few ideas on a whim, cobbling together any old content, and making sure you knew who's boss. I'm fairly good at carefully-yet-forcefully steering clients towards better ideas (although not as good in those days), but had to give up and just churn out rubbish.

this is one of the reasons why I got out of the web page business and refuse to design anything for anyone anymore. I remember ages ago when I was the webmaster for a nameless motorcycle dealership a day when my boss invited me over to check out this web site she had found that contained every lame javascript and DHTML trick and page transition ever conceived by lesser men, and she pointed each one out and explained who great it would be if I could add this to this page, or that to that page. "wouldn't it be great if we had the words WELCOME TO NAMELESS DEALERSHIP follow the cursor around?" it made me physically ill!

I think the biggest problem is that people who don't know very much about the web don't consider it as valid or serious a form of design as, say, print. and also the fact that you view web sites on a screen probably gives them the notion that a good web site is like a TV commercial. and furthermore, since changes can be made fairly quickly and "right before their eyes" it's easy to hang over the designer's shoulder and go, "wow ok now do this! wow ok now do this! oh wow! ok now do this!" but believe it or not, many of us have gone to art and design school and have been honing our craft for years and years (in my case, over a decade)!

anyways, enough rant. more stupid client tricks can be found at clientcopia.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:02 AM on April 24, 2005

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