Design Aspects/Comments of the Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease

Needless to say, the halloween and christmas webcam web pages are a bit over the top. But HEY, so is the concept of allowing people from around the world via the Internet to not only view your holiday display, but also control it. So it should come as no surprise that the web design is also (intentionally) over-the-top ... and numerous web sites and user commentary have noted that. Rather than have me enumerate those aspects, I'll repost two "reviews" below that do a good job of summarizing it.

Over at Download Squad, Vicor Ageda wrote "Fugly Friday: Can better design help your cause?"

The thing about technology is that it isn't inherently good or bad, it's how we choose to use it that makes it so. This has been true since the first humans picked up a bone and fashioned a hammer. Some used it to build, and others to kill. So it is with the web -- except the killing part, maybe. We've seen some great stuff like Google's search engine, Delicious bookmarks and Pandora's music engine. But then there's the low barrier to making web pages, spawning the sort of nightmares you'll find at Alek's Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease.

Now look, I'm not trashing Alek's work with Christmas lights (personally I love web-controlled lights and the hobbyists who do these light shows are really dedicated) and I'm certainly not saying Celiac disease is a cause unworthy of attention. I only wish Alek hadn't chosen the following things for his site:

* Autoplay MIDI music
* Cutesy javascript cursor follow
* Dense text everywhere
* Wacky fonts from 1996

These are the web equivalents of polyester suits. Cute when worn as a joke, not so cute when used at a serious job interview. Same here: a redesign might bring more awareness to Celiac disease, a tough condition which requires a gluten-free diet.

Ultimately the question becomes one of content vs. presentation. Does poor presentation trump content, or does great content rise above bad presentation? I found a nice summary of this notion from 2006 at LukeW's site:

Many sites with a poor visual presentation remain popular on the merits of their content alone. But does their audience enjoy bumping through the site's awkward graphics and hard to read labels? No, but the personality of the content (it could be high quality, funny, worthwhile, and more) makes the rest bearable. Would their audience be happier if the personality of the presentation matched the personality of the content? Of course.

Perhaps a designer could donate some time to making Alek's site visibly more manageable? Alek's site is already pretty famous, so I can't help but think that a facelift would help his cause.

Jason chimed in with a comment that is consistent with the design aspect
Hey Victor lighten up. That site is hilarious.

You want him to have a nice slickly designed site to control Xmas lights and inflatable and deflatable Xmas characters? I must be out of the loop and while I wasn't looking, Xmas lights that cover your whole house and lawn along with blowup Santa, Elmo, Frosty and Homer have become the pinnacle of good taste!!!

C'mon Vic, the site is perfectly in keeping with the content and in that regard a brilliant piece of design! [Alek: YEP!]

To his credit you can turn off the Santa-Homer cursor, (or even enlarge it to "Hulk-in' " size if you choose). You can turn the music off too. Hi-Def view has a nice comic touch to it (in the mouse-over and description). There is some diligence to the site as well. He has validated his CSS and HTML 4. Good man!

Even "serious" sites such as big news sites blast you with sounds and flashing lights and massive intrusive ads.

I am usually a stickler for design, but I can see the comic value in this and the design-to-your-content principle in effect here. Alek gets the thumbs up from me.

Happy Xmas

The folks over at (great web site name!) wrote "Christmas Spirit Gone Awry"

Christmas is a festive time of year. With it comes a plethora of reds, greens, lights, candies, cakes and gifts. It also appears that design suck comes along as well.

Let me start by saying that this guy does what he does with his yard and site for a great cause (fighting Celiac disease). I'm inclined to say we should all eat less wheat, but that's not why we're here. I'm not so cold and heartless that I won't say that the guy's yard isn't really cool, but his site is just as busy and probably equally as annoying to the neighbors.

We're here to talk about bad web design. Before we get too much further, let's look at the site.

Annoyed yet? I thought so. It's amazing how many people will visit and miss the obvious. Great yard, horrible site. They comment on the site as if they missed what I saw (unless the owner deleted the negatives).[Alek: unless it is profanity or not family friendly, negative comments are left as-is] So, on to the stuff that's wrong.

* Looping MIDI music is easily the bottom of the suck barrel, but at least he gives the option of killing it.
* Santa / Homer mouse cursors? Just say no. Once again, there is the option of turning them off (and even resizing them, though why the hell would you want to make it bigger).
* Movement. EVERYWHERE! It's like a control board with flashing lights and warning text. I don't know where to look at any given second.
* Blinking link text. Why? Seriously. As if the movement that's already there isn't enough, now the links have to blink too?
* Blue links on a green background. I'd love to hear from a red-green colorblind person about their viewing experience. Granted, that's not a ton of people, but I'm not red-green colorblind and I can barely make out the difference.
* It's generally considered bad form to display your blog poster's IP addresses (unless you're OK with script kiddies knowing where a person dumb enough to post to a blog that displays them lives). Some of the people here point that out, however.
* Obviously a JavaScript freak, the page is replete with it. God forbid you click the 'High Def' link. Then you get to scroll left and right as well as a mile in the up and down direction.

No real secret here, this site is just poorly designed. The overuse of novelties is distracting to be polite. I'm not too polite, so I'll say it's straight annoying. The guy who designed it obviously likes to tinker, and doesn't mind making a mess. I only hope that I don't stumble across this next year (unless it get's fixed).

Well, it's for a good cause, so I think I'll donate (although, I've read that things like that can be cured with a good 'heavy metal' detox). Anyway.

Update: Alek has added a popup for those of us referred from this site. Cool.