Baseball ReduxFebruary 3, 2013
Last week I was having a conversation with an editorial designer and I asked him if he did hardcore graphic design for web interfaces, too. “Not really.” He allowed as how while he would probably do someone’s clean or minimal blog design, he’d not go after something more intense, like a sports franchise website.
Which immediately got me thinking.
My friend used sports franchise websites as an example of the polar opposite of clean and minimal design in his answer. He was, of course, correct. I smiled at that fact and said, “You know, I wonder if a clean and minimal design would work for a sports franchise website. It would be interesting to see how or even if that could be done and still work.” We talked about it. He suggested that maybe I should give it a try.
I reflected on the fact that, as a Texas Rangers baseball fan, I’m seldom able to quickly and easily find what I’m looking for whenever I visit their site. I also noted that I ignore 95% of what’s there, because I only ever go to their website for a specific reason, not to simply browse the hundreds of things they’re arbitrarily offering up to me.
I’m not trying to pick on the Rangers site, alone. All sports sites are ugly, frenetic, and unusable in this way. The sports franchise website is an idiom that typically does not succeed in doing what it thinks it’s doing. I’ll just hold up the Texas Rangers MLB website as my whippin’ boy today.
In the first 850 pixels or so, they’re typically offering me 30 to 40 items, all competing for my attention (and at least a couple of them are moving). Any time I go there, there’s only 1 or perhaps 2 items that I’m interested in. All else works to keep me from finding and then enjoying it, due to the constant distraction of the videos and animated slideshows. In fact, the whole page design and layout works to present me with an anesthetic fog of information as created by the hyper-aesthetic treatment of every element on the page. I don’t see content. I see interface. Dazzling interface.
I know that sports are, by definition, exciting. Therefore, the website for a sports franchise’s website’s first job is to look exciting. Yes, I see what you did there. And I just disagree.
On the typical sports website there is no attempt at what I’d deem to be a usable experience. Instead, here, there’s a concerted attempt to 1) ensure that the team’s red and blue branding is comprehensively prominent, 2) ensure I can perceive that there’s an amazing array of stuff happening (so much happening!) with the Rangers, and 3) use every pixel of space for content and interface furniture, so that it all fits in the smallest space possible while presenting everyone with a tyranny of choice. Yay, sports!
But what if we pretended that each bit of content wasn’t supposed to be in direct competition with other content, but each item treated with dignity and gravity? What if we pretended that ads weren’t supposed to try and compete with content, but that they were content and should be treated as such?
But what if we pretended that usability was important? What if we approached the content design with the idea of presenting information in a compelling way rather than presenting frenetic activity and dazzling visual energy in a brand-centric way?
I asked friends, I asked family members, and I asked people on twitter: what do you want to see on your sports team’s website? Why do you go there? Their answers and priority were consistent:
- Find out last night’s score
- Check who they play next (plus the upcoming series) and on what TV channel
- Purchase tickets
- Check standings
…everything else was ancillary, including news, which only 2 people mentioned. These responses were identical to my own reasons for going. Folks who want news typically go to the general sports/news outlets.
Like all of my redux exercises, this is not to suggest that the Rangers’ site should look like this. This design is arbitrary. My aim was to re-imagine the Rangers’ main page partly according to some of what I know or believe to be important and partly according to my own whim and preference. After all, why not make this a fun exercise?
So here’s my hastily done take on a more usable, more useful, more appropriate design, with a bit of hipster aesthetic thrown in just because.
Here, each kind of content is presented according to a logical hierarchy and in a way that allows the user/reader to consume the content free from distraction of other content or ads. Preserving horizontal zones for individual content allows for this, while putting content side-by-side is an exercise in distraction.
Yes, the branding is altered and that’s kind of a no no. But guess what? I already know that my Rangers are vivid red and blue rather than this unsaturated version, because I’m, you know, a fan. But that’s okay, gobs of highly saturated color sucks when I’m trying to read or see information. Plus, I’m just having a bit of fun with the aesthetic here. Anyway, this feels more like baseball to me, so just go with it.
I removed many things from the page that I deemed redundant or filler. One could argue I removed too much. The best designs remove almost too much, anyway. Here, I just got carried away. No matter. As for news, there are apparently 10 or 12 different types of “news” for the Rangers. How about we call it all “news” and give it a consolidated section here, according to logical priority, with links to the vast array of info in a news section elsewhere.
Ads are important to the franchise and to MLB, so we’ve still got ‘em. But instead of having to make garish ads to compete with content, let’s make nicer ads and give them their own spot in the content lineup. Treat them with dignity and let the content retain its dignity. Win win.
Maybe a beautiful, clean, usable interface and experience is not appropriate for a sports franchise website. I’m perfectly willing to learn that it might not be. I just think it is. I think clean, beautiful, and usable is appropriate for every website.
There’s much more that could be done here. Baseball is surrounded and saturated by statistics. Imagine beautiful stats presented in a beautiful and engaging way on a beautiful and clean page. There’s plenty of room for consideration of that, I’d wager. What do you think? How about you do your own exercise and show us how that might look?