Not in love with “Coal: A Love Story”

Student Coal A Love StoryAfter being assigned the story “Coal: A Love Story” and analyzing the interactive website, I was very disappointed to say the least. After exploring and clicking on stories and coal calculators for about fifteen minutes, it didn’t take long for me to become frustrated, yet still uninformed.
At first I was very intrigued by the site’s creative pictures, fonts, and headings. I thought it was a very inviting look. I scrolled down the page to follow the design of the “plug in”, to find out that there were several videos and a coal calculator (which never worked for me due to the internet browser I was using) to interact with. Initially I looked at the title and then scrolled all the way to the bottom to see what I was most interested in. I did this because I saw that the scroll bar was very long and obviously there was a lot of information. To explore the entirety of the site would have taken a lot longer than 15 minutes, so I decided to focus on the most interesting aspects.

As a girl, I did what most would do and click on the story with the most interesting picture: a girl in a Coal Pageant.born into coal  “Born in to Coal” is the story where I became the most frustrated. It took forever for the video to load, and even then, would skip throughout the entire production. This was disengaging and I decided to go back and look at something else. However, when you click the back button it leaves the site altogether. It wants you instead to click the next button and watch the videos chronologically. Who really has time for that?

With that said, this website violates the first navigation tip: keeping it simple. There were several different stories to choose from as the list went down the page for what seemed like hours. It also went against tip five which explains how the return option should be easy. Like I mentioned before, the back button was not accessable here.  Rather, you had to click on the outside of the text or video box.

news 21Going back to contact the producers and creators of the website was even more difficult. I initially scrolled to the bottom of the pager where they usually have a “Contact Us” tab. But no. Then I tried scrolling to the top again and found nothing. I eventually clicked on the NEWS 21 link and found that this was produced by a team of journalists from top universities all over the U.S.
Then I thought maybe I just had a bad experience with the website.  So I conducted a “usability test” on one of my friends, Randi. She is very user-friendly and interactive with technology so I thought she would be a great candidate. All I did was sit her down and give her 15 minutes to simply check out the website. Unlike me, she immediately clicked on the first story. While the story was engaging for her, it was too long so she clicked the “next” button. Right off the bat she was doing just what the site had intended their audience to do. She continued to hit the “next” button until she got through all of the videos. That seemed like the end. However, by using the interactive timeline, Randi was also able to experience the graphics, something I missed altogether.  She was not very captured by the graphics or the content, which made her uninterested in the story as a whole. ALthough Randi did say she was initially impressed with the layout, but thought that a more horizontal scroll effect would be more effective for this many videos. She also said it would be more engaging had the authors and producers included more interactive media, such as slideshows of pictures, more text, or even just audio clips. It was overwhelming to have all videos. When I asked her to find a “Contact Us” button she struggled. First, she looked at the top of the page for drop down options or at least tabs for the site. When she found nothing, she scrolled to the bottom of the page to look for credits or an author name. Nothing again. She never did find anyone to contact so I showed her the link to NEWS 21.

If I could critique the website and change three things I would first change the layout. I agree in thinking a horizontal scroll option would be more effective for videos. I would also limit the number of videos and add more content to other multimedia platforms. It was very difficult to see the graphic options that were hidden by the much larger links to video, maybe balance it out?  Finally, I would change the top of the website and give it tabs for reaching certain parts of the website such as “About Us”, “Videos”, “Slideshows”, “Coal Calculator”, etc. This way it would simplify the site and its length.
At the same time I would also keep some of the things the same. I would not change the fonts or designs. They were good at making a bold statement to the audience and reflected the content of the story, especially the creativity with the plug. I would also leave the clear labels and descriptions of all the links and stories the same because that was helpful to direct the viewer. The last thing I would not change about the website is its repetitive position of links.  This allowed the viewer to ALWAYS know where to click to access a link. check

Altogether, I think that News21 did a decent job at producing an interactive website.  I believe that any site that entails a high level of creativity can be difficult to the viewer, but also very impressive once they find out just how to use it.

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