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The New Vatican Website Redesign Is…

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 6/17/11 at 12:05 PM

 

...frustrating. Not only because it is frustrating to use, but because I simply don’t understand the reasoning behind the design. I’m quite sure I’m missing something.

I know they have unique challenges that no other website in the world has - technically, culturally and theologically. I want to be charitable. I just don’t get it. You can view it here: Vatican.va

They are guilty of at least 2 of the 7 deadly sins of parish website design (which also apply to them) and a long list of venial ones.

I don’t want to be too critical as I’m sure they have further plans and this is just a small, first step. It just seems like a step in the wrong direction to me. But maybe that’s just me.

Take a look at it:

Here are a few suggestions for improvement:

1) Get rid of the parchment background. Maybe it does help the Vatican stand out as a significantly “other” or different kind of organization than any other on the planet (which is a worthy challenge and good goal). But unfortunately, it does so in all the wrong ways.

2) It needs to be designed with the audience in mind. And by audience I mean the World…not just the smaller circle of Catholics who quite enjoy the way the website currently looks. The Vatican website is one of the primary voices of Christ’s Church on planet Earth in this Information Age. It has the potential to evangelize, teach and impress the Gospel upon the world in a way like nothing else can. Yet it doesn’t seem to be reaching out or catering to that audience.

3) It should adhere to some basic web standards for informational-type (and almost all other type) websites. The primary one being navigational standards. The links are all over the place. And even if they do make sense in some way, it takes the user some time to figure it out. If we want to make information easy for new visitors to find, we should use navigation/menu standards that the average web-surfer understands and feels comfortable with the quickest. There are plenty of ways to inject some creativity and originality. The navigation and menus are NOT the place to do that for the Vatican website (arguably the most important website in the world).

4) The navigational links need to not only be organized better, but there needs to be less top-level links. This redesign supposedly improved navigation. But it does just the opposite. It contains a lot more links on the front page. Adding a lot more links to the top-level of a navigation system almost always makes navigation worse. I realize that some people like all the additional links. They are mostly the same people who have 95 shortcuts on their computer desktop. Most people find it confusing and overwhelming.

5) I would think that we would want to make some basic resources and answers easily available to new visitors. We want to help non-Catholics and searching-Catholics easily get this info. The Vatican can also be an example/help to other active-Catholics as to how to answer such questions…like What is the Catholic Church? What are its basic teachings? But this is not obvious at all upon visiting vatican.va. It takes awhile to confusingly jump around to all of the various links trying to figure out where I might find such info. Finally I MIGHT decide to scroll down and click on a link at the very bottom that says “Resource Library” where I am then given links to entire books on the subject (The Bible, Catechism, Canon Law, etc).

6) The search needs big improvements. If I try to search for something simple, like, say “Baptism.”  The results are a bunch of google search links to thousands of various vatican documents that mention the word baptism. What it should do is give a few of the top documents/catechism links on precisely what the Church teaches about baptism and how to go about getting baptized. That would be more helpful for 99% of visitors. Instead the visitor will simply click away and go read what somebody else on the internet says the Church teaches about baptism. Opportunity missed.

7) Where is Jesus? Non-Catholics (and even many Catholics) might be confused as to where Jesus is? I suppose the circular pattern of links in the middle is supposed to be the Eucharist (but most people won’t get that). And the presence of Pope Benedict XVI instead of Jesus just perpetuates the misunderstandings out there that the Church is not Christo-centric.  I love Papa Benedict. He’s one of my favorite people in the world. And he holds the Keys to the Kingdom and the man resonates Christ like no other. But that’s not the point. Most people in the world don’t see that. And the vatican website should take that into account.

We are just missing so many opportunities and I’m anxious to see the vatican website start to embrace them. It’s exciting that they are beginning to do that. I just hope it continues and in the right direction. I got mad love for them.

What do you think of the vatican website?  Am I being too critical?