“UPDATED SERVICE ADVISORY – EAST RIVER FERRY CAPACITY LIMITS – PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ,” the top banner on the East River Ferry’s website nervously advises. Immediately below this warning comes the gentle and slightly vacuous headline, “Relax. We’ll Get You There.” The two headlines tell contrasting stories that completely contradict each other. No print art director would place these two messages on the same page, let alone in such close proximity or with treatments that compete for the reader’s attention. Yet this is how we treat content on the web.
Elsewhere on the page, care has been taken. An interactive map! With rollovers! Be still, my heart.
But when it came time to determine a content strategy, no one was in charge (or the wrong people were). Instead of the kind of headline that actually works on the web, a committee approved a soft print advertising headline—the kind that might appear in a quarter-page ad in the back of the playbill for a regional theater company’s production of Guys and Dolls. No thought was given to how that headline would play if the ferry developed service problems. Apparently no substitute, contingency headline was created. And not much thought (if any) was given to how the design might change if a problem arose.
Thus at the last minute a slightly hysterical “over capacity” headline that makes the “Relax” headline look ridiculous was jammed on top of the primary headline, using design techniques that give the warning primacy of place, and add shrillness by using all caps, only to defeat their own urgency with a low-contrast teal-on-blue color scheme that is difficult for people with normal vision to read and may be invisible to people with certain kinds of color-blindness.
This is what we do. We have meetings, we reach consensus, we make templates, we approve inoffensive headlines and copy, and we fumble contingencies. Avoiding these problems is what content strategy and user experience design are all about.