Last week was the annual FE First awards arranged by the Marketing Network (Marketers in Post 16 Education). For those of you who don’t has the pleasure of working in the UK Further Education system in marketing, communications or design this may not seem a big deal but these awards are the closest we ever come to glitz, glamour and a small award certificate/trophy. (I should say at this point that I have never actually attended!)
So why am I mentioning this seemingly uninteresting minor event on the larger social calender? …well it’s because every year they give prizes to the “best” current College websites so I thought I would share the results and give a few thoughts – although I hope you will make up your own minds:
Winner – North Devon College
Uses Flash navigation and inline styles, the judges said the site stood out as it was “using design techniques more often used within the private sector as opposed to education”. This in indeed true as most education sites that are worth anything these days design exclusively with web standards unlike this site. Some things here are built okay and look alright but overall I’m disappointed that this is deemed to be the best thing in the sector.
Runner Up – Deeside College
I am even more disappointed with this site purely because it has been entirely built with tables and will be completely inaccessible to many users.
Honourable Mention – Aberdeen College
If I had designed this website I would be disappointed, but only at not having won this award easily. I think this is a great looking site with a great little user interface and to seal the deal it’s built really well using web standards (style and behaviour kept separate from content) and accessible to everyone!
Honourable Mention – James Watts College of Further Education
Again built exclusively with tables – make up your own mind please?
To sum up…
I am disappointed because these awards have essentially given the wrong sort of encouragement to people who are getting it wrong when it comes to best practice and providing the best user experience possible. These people should clearly be encouraged to evaluate how they work and not told how great they are when they have a inaccessible website.
I’m really please the Aberdeen College website was in there and I’ve seen some other College websites this year that were overlooked and are equally as good. I really do think web standards are beginning to make an impact in the area of both College and University websites in the UK. This hopefully means that the accessibility levels of sites is much improved while I’m sure various institutions are also now seeing some of the business benefits of web standards.
The BBC news website ran a story the other day titled “most websites are failing disabled” and it’s a shame that the Further Education sector choose to highlight just those sorts of websites last week instead of celebrating the sites that have clearly moved in the right direction producing both visually appealing and accessible sites.
I can see that building a commercially successfully site that is accessible can seem difficult to some but in web standards we have the tools and the education sector must surely embrace this. There are plenty of good recent examples of education websites that meet this brief… just please, as a general rule, don’t look at the one’s that win awards!
Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.