The Duck of Minerva

ForeignPolicy.Com Fail

14 April 2014

As I noted last week, for the final project in my linked seminar this year, my students have to design and launch a website to promote their fictitious human rights NGO. In prepping for the course and in developing the grading rubrics, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading the literature on what makes for a strong and effective website and how to integrate design, functionality, and content. My students’ websites are evaluated on all of these aspects. The content and text should match the sophistication of the targeted audience — generally it should be smart and focused. The aesthetic should include visual appeal, professional appearance, color harmonies with elegant and clear and easy to use design functions to visually guide readers through the content.

All of this makes me wonder what the hell are the folks at Foreign thinking? There is still some decent content in there. But, I simply can’t access it — not because I don’t have a subscription — I ponied up the cash for the new monthly fee after the new site and pay wall was rolled out earlier this year. I can’t access it because visually it’s simply too overwhelming with an overload of text and images that often are nested on top of each other — why even have pictures that are obstructed by blocks of text? There is very little open space and there are incredibly sloppy design and graphic features with random pop-ups. Navigating the site is difficult because even after following a link to a story, the page is littered with right and left bar text — its not easy to see where one story ends and another begins. This screen shot is from this morning:

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 9.46.52 AM

I also have trouble accessing the content because I have an instinctive aversion to check-out counter celebrity magazine formats — filled with titillating and sensationalized headlines. Seriously, who is the target audience for all of this? Today we get a headline on a “five step program to fix Ukraine.” Glad it’s so easy. We get this headline: “Russia is an Arsonist Pretending to Be a Fire Inspector.” Wow, that’s insightful. And then, there’s this gem — apparently Claire Shipman and Jay Carney from Washington’s “B-list celebrities” have Soviet propaganda posters on their walls at home — the same home in which they are raising nice, well-fed children.

The lead banner this morning was particularly bad. A former “spook” tells us that a tv show is more intrigue than “real espionage” — you think? On top of that, there are blocks with gray and red text over-laying a black background. It’s illegible.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.26.22 AM

This is all very unfortunate. I used to rely on content in FP to help trigger some discussion and debate in class. This week I’m relying on the technology fail of the website to illustrate what not to do.

If one gets past the inane headlines and some of the really dumb fluff pieces, there is still some decent content –even after departures by Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch. Maria Stephan has a nice piece on the role of non-violence and civil protest. The Channels still provide a nice range of insights. Steve Walt, Tom Ricks, David Bosco and Column Lynch can always be counted on to have interesting updates. But, the overall aesthetic of the site coupled with some pretty pathetic pieces and titillating headlines really does a disservice to these more sophisticated contributions.