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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

“Kids Love Potter, Jerry”

Last week the J.K.Rowling site’s newly-launched ‘accessible version’ was politely criticised by Jeffrey Zeldman for all the work that must’ve gone into making full use of Flash’s accessibility features to work around its shortcomings. Understandably, Macromedia’s John Dowdell reacted defensively, as did Bob Regan, but I’m not sure it’s a project they should be so keen to promote or defend.

jkrowling.com screenshot

The entry page alone is terrible, with black-and-white flags representing languages (rather than countries) and a link that doesn’t look like a link for the more-accessible version. The site launches in a full-screen pop-up, and the more-accessible and text-only versions are only available in English. Once you’re in, some of the playful elements work well and are fun to explore initially, but much of the interface soon feels obstructive and slow.

There’s another side to the flaws: the site is also bad for J.K.Rowling (and I’m sure you’re all deeply concerned for the welfare of a struggling author). It barely shows up in search engines, and no one can link to specific pieces of information. It’s a blob of multimedia content available for download, not a true part of the web. Perhaps worst of all, text content is displayed in a tiny pixellated font and squashed into tiny scrolling boxes. Why would a writer have a site that shows such contempt for their words?

So what should they have done? Use ‘web standards’ to present main navigation and text content within attractive, accessible pages. Use Flash for big dollops of animated, interactive fun. Ditch the stupid pop-up and separate ‘accessible’ versions. You can have the best of both worlds, and it’s a lot less hassle for developers and users.

Anyway, the J.K.Rowling site is now my favourite example of how not to use Flash on the web, and has already proved useful in demonstrating classic pitfalls to clients, so at least something useful’s come out of those over-hyped books. Thanks, J.K.!


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