Wednesday July 26, 2006

What's up with the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts website?

When Miami Performing Arts Center announced they were changing their name to Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, they had a new web site ready to go, and it was up and running the same day. Let’s take a look.

The Center’s previous website [screengrab] was certainly due for an overhaul, what with its undistinguished home page and clunky menu system. The new site ditches all of that for an almost all-Flash design. Now, you can on and on reading good explanations of why Flash is bad (and please do). But for starters, let’s just take a look at what the user sees when they load up the site:

internet explorer
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This is what I got in Internet Explorer. IE has a recently added quirk wherein you have to click on any flash animation before you can use it. This causes some of the content to not display, and some to display but be unusable until you click. Since there are four distinct Flash animations on the home page (!), that’s a lot of clicking. In Firefox, the situation is different. If you have flash installed, the site loads normally (albeit slowly), unless, like me, you have flashblock installed, in which case you get this:

internet explorer
Click image for full-size

Oops! But nevermind; unless you’re one of the unfortunate who don’t have Flash installed at all, sooner or later you get to the actual site, which looks like this:

internet explorer
Click image for full-size

We get a main-window animation with all sorts of faces. Clicking on someone’s face lets you order tickets for their show, right? Wrong: it takes you to an all-text listing of all shows. You search for the name associated with the face you just clicked, then you can buy tickets. Three boxes along the right give you more information (like about parking) in hilariously minuscule type. But you can increase the font size in your browser if your eyes aren’t so good anymore, right? Wrong: this is Flash, remember? That type is staying that size. At the top we get a banner with a little slide-show, and underneath that the main menu. Ah . . . the menu. The glorious little menu.

Well, I sat a couple of people down with this menu and watched them try to use it (apparently nobody at Carnival Center thought of doing that before unleashing it on an unsuspecting world). It invariably gave them fits. Each position on the menu opens a little horizontal submenu underneath. But as you go to click on one of these submenu items, if you brush past one of the buttons on the main menu, the submenu changes. Go ahead and try it! Pretend you want to volunteer! Go to the site, activate the menu, hover over “Membership & Support,” and try to click on “Volunteer.” See what I mean?

Most of the interior pages are just ported from the old site, and are unremarkable except for that funny menu you have to keep dealing with. (There must be multiple versions of this menu, too, because sometimes clicking “Home” took me home, sometimes it did nothing.)

What’s amazing is that it’s not that difficult to do this right. Miami Light Project, a Carnival Center “arts partner,” has a perfectly hip and very usable web site. The Lincoln Center, which MPAC has spent a lot of time comparing itself to, has a silly (but skipable) Flash intro followed by a Flash-free and relatively usable regular site (with a text-only version). The LA Performing Arts Center has a . . . well, you get the idea. I wonder what happened. Does the new Carnival site work for you? Let me know in the comments, and let me know what browser and version you’re using.

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  1. gansibele    Wed Jul 26, 10:12 AM #  

    The tracking setting of your mouse (or laptop fingerpad in my case) really seems to screw with the submenu thing. Sometimes I couldn’t keep it in the hotspot at all. I had to reduce the tracking setting just to be able to navigate the site.

    And I can’t get over the Carnival-symbol dancing-the-hula-with-two-hoops logo.

  2. Franklin    Wed Jul 26, 11:21 AM #  

    Some designer somewhere should have asked himself if red borders under headlines added value to the content, and whether fading them while blinking (blinking!) added more value. Then he should have committed seppuku. This site is atrocious.

  3. alesh    Wed Jul 26, 12:20 PM #  

    The logo gets me into a whole different area, where they swapped this colorful, bold, almost hip visual identity for, if the website is any indication, a rather more mundane and pedestrian one. It was probably inevitable, but I’m curious to see what their future print pieces look like.

    The blinking underlines are hilarious. In fact, those three rectangles on the right are the least polished part of the whole thing. Flashing underlines, near-microscopic text, and the only clickable part is the little “more” link in the lower left. I have no idea what firm did this site, but that piece looks like a “my first flash piece” attempt.

  4. mkh    Wed Jul 26, 02:32 PM #  

    Yeah, when I saw the new site I wanted to shine the Jacob-signal in the sky and hope for the best.

    Incidentally, the most recent patch to Dreamweaver will fix that IE thing automagically. I’ve been playing seek-and-destroy on my corporate intranet for a couple of weeks now, repairing all the Flash, Java, and [shudder] ActiveX objects.

  5. Manola Blablablanik    Wed Jul 26, 04:53 PM #  

    I’ll tell you what’s up: IT’S FUGLY!

  6. NicFitKid    Wed Jul 26, 05:39 PM #  

    Checked the site with Firefox, it was hilarious! Well, not for the first 17 seconds, that was just load time (sorry Alesh, I don’t have the blocker). I think the menus are meant to be a mini-game, although a frustrating and pointless one. Extra points if you can successfuly drag your mouse from the “Membership & Support” menu tab to “Membership in the alliance for MPAC” menu selection on the first try. I kept hitting the other tabs and triggering their menus until I figured out to hover, drop straight down, cross left and hook back up. See, it’s a test, they only want MPAC members that can perform counterintuitive mouse movements!

    Of course, the epileptic parade of images serves as a wonderful distractor for a new visitor trying to work the menus. Did someone get paid to put this together? I don’t know squat about web design, but maybe I should print up a few business cards and start a new career. I’ll just take a button of peyote before each job, or better yet, get a kid with a really ugly MySpace site to do it for twenty bucks and a case of beer.

  7. KH    Thu Jul 27, 09:07 AM #  

    No way am I going to investigate how bad that site is; forget it!

    The logo is killing me. It’s miserable. And what’s that torn flag image thing on the right side of the masthead? Please, this is a town that needs to avoid flag connotations. Maybe it’s some kind of cruise flag, but I wouldn’t know, as I refuse on principal to patronize that dirty industry.

    I vow to refer to the former MPAC as the Carnie Center. That’ll teach ‘em.

  8. alesh    Thu Jul 27, 11:29 AM #  

    Marc~ How about rolling out Firefox for the whole company?

    The new logo is really a bummer, esp considering the old logo, which spelled out ‘MIAMI’ in a funky sun pattern… the new one is the Carnival logo (!) with two oval-shaped swooshes. Ovals and swooshes are such a cliche in recent logo redesigns (just the best link i could find on short notice) that they’ve become a joke.

    Not good.

  9. gansibele    Thu Jul 27, 11:38 AM #  

    Yep Alesh, the oval thing is so overdone nowadays. It’s the new “paintbrushed” line that was so prevalent in the early nineties.

    The logo is an absolute travesti, a hijacking of the center’s identity by Carnival and either incompetence or cronyism by the people who were negotiated how much Carnival gets for their naming rights. Nothing about it says center for the performing arts. All people are going to remember is the Carnival logo because it’s the only recognizable element. I want to start some kind of petition or something to get an identity redesign, on the basis that we didn’t pay hundreds of millions of dollars to have Carnival’s logo stuck down our throats.

  10. Manola Blablablanik    Thu Jul 27, 01:20 PM #  

    This photo says it all.

  11. mkh    Thu Jul 27, 03:27 PM #  

    If only I could convert all 4000+ desktops to Firefox…. Sadly, it isn’t my call, as I am only a very small cog with a very big mouth.

  12. Miami Transit Man    Thu Jul 27, 03:54 PM #  

    Good Find Manola!

  13. alesh    Thu Jul 27, 04:21 PM #  

    Uh… i see a hand-rendering of the PAC, looking south. What do you guys see??

  14. KH    Thu Jul 27, 05:16 PM #  

    A cruise ship.

  15. Manola Blablablanik    Thu Jul 27, 06:08 PM #  

    KH, no ordinary one … that’s the love boat so exciting and new ... :-)