Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Design is the Key - Know Your Audience

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, has been working on using new technology to reach a broader and more engaged audience. They have created a site for their long-range comprehensive plan for transportation and land use, GO TO 2040 .

I have had the pleasure of exploring
GO TO 2040 and it’s really quite good. One of the authors Lindsay Banks explains why they chose this approach here.

The site’s language is concise, the message clear, and the layout is coordinated. The citizens of the area have a really good resource available to them with this site. I especially enjoyed the information about urban design, because it is written in a way that nonprofessionals can get a clear understanding of an often confusing subject. This is key to a well designed web site or blog. Unfortunately this is to often not the case.

Before developing project specific municipal blogs, I had been involved in developing communication strategies and new web sites for a number of municipalities throughout my career. What I brought to the table was an antidote to the excessively technology focused perspectives that often override sound principles of communication. These substitute flash (quite literally) for content and message.

When dealing with government web sites and blogs it is critical that the technology does not outshine and obscure the message. Don’t fall for the sales pitches that will have your site ringing and chirping with every bell and whistle, if the subject doesn’t call for it, or your organization doesn’t have the money, people, skills and time to maintain it. The result is a great looking site for a short time that later results in something I call “website entropy”. I’m assuming that doesn’t need a definition.

Web sites, blogs, social media, web 2.0 tools, all have the ability to enhance the work WE do as Planners; and conversely they have the ability to amplify our mistakes if WE are not careful. In the simplest of terms they are publishing and communication tools and the 101 principles of communication, process design, attention to detail, and appreciation of your audience all still apply.

So, is it better to design a site that reads like a romance novel or encyclopedia?

You decide.


Unknown said...

Robert, thanks for the shout-out. Glad to see you found to be informative and engaging.

I agree that the web is subject to most rules of communications that apply to more-traditional media. At the same time, those traditional media are having to adapt to the interactivity that web viewers expect. In a sense, every website has to compete for attention with the best of what's out there -- with the New York Times, for example. We don't have anywhere near those resources, obviously, but hopefully CMAP's advantage is our compelling local content that people can't find anywhere else, with the chance for residents to shape the region's comprehensive plan through 2040 and beyond. We appreciate your helping to make people aware of that opportunity.

Tom Garritano

Communications Principal
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)
233 South Wacker Drive
Suite 800, Sears Tower
Chicago, IL 60606

312-386-8609 (voice)
312-386-8610 (fax)

tgarritano at cmap dot illinois dot gov

Anonymous said...

I love this line: These substitute flash (quite literally) for content and message.