Assemblies of God

15 comments | Posted: 19 January 06 in Featured, by Nathan Smith

URL: agncn.org

This site was posted recently by Frank Johnson on the website critique area of the discussion forum. It immediately got my attention not because it stands out graphically or has tons of pizazz, like many mega-church sites nowadays. Rather, it stands out because it just feels solid.

It is refreshing to see a thoroughly thought-out and functional site that “just works.” It validates as perfect XHTML 1.0 Strict and also sports perfect CSS. It’s running on the backbone of the Expression Engine CMS, allowing the denomination staff to make their own updates.

As far as site features, I really like the random headers. Even though the text is somewhat non-descript, I appreciate that they purposefully highlight both genders and a diversity of cultures in the photo selection. I also like the menu scheme. Rather than JavaScript drop-downs, which are often obtrusive, another sub-layer of navigation appears on pages where it is appropriate.

They have also focused specifically on the “social networking” aspect of the site, going beyond the brochure approach. Each news story has a Tell a Friend link, as well as one for Del.icio.us bookmarking. They’ve also employed the new standard feed icon, as agreed upon by Microsoft and Mozilla. All in all, this site feels very complete. Clearly, there was a lot of planning that went into this, with focus on function and usability as the first priority.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Jesse J. Anderson

    Hmm. Code-wise, yah sure it’s very well done.

    But as far as looks? This site is BORING.

    Not that it needs a flash header or something else “trendy,” but at least have some actual design. This looks like it was designed in an excel spreadsheet. Their color scheme is non-existant, unless you count the default blue on the links.

    When sites like this get praised I get really worried about the future of the internet… the big push towards accessibility and web standards does not mean we should throw good design out the window.

    You can have the best car engine in the world, but if it’s hiding under the shell of a Pinto, who really wants to own one?

     
  2. 2 Jared Christensen

    I have to agree with Jesse. While the code is certainly top-notch, the design lacks any sort of passion. The result is a well-coded site that I think will have a hard time encouraging a “sticky” reading experience for lack of visual interest. Just my 2 cents.

     
  3. 3 David Merwin

    I totally disagree Jesse.

    I love the site because it works. It works, imagine that. A church website that works and is well designed. This brings to mind the idea of what design is. Design is not the wow factor, or cool colors. Design is providing a solution to a problem. A List Apart has a GREAT article about this here: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/bathingape

    This site is not the coolest one on the block, but it’s users know where they can get information from and they are able to communicate and support the church’s mission. THAT is the most important thing.

    Look at the Toyota Camry.

    “Drivers like Anderson have helped make the Camry a perennial top seller, with 2005 figures showing it was the best-selling car in the United States for the fourth year in a row, and eight of the last nine years. It again topped the Accord and other mid-size competitors such as the Chevrolet Impala. – Forbes.com”
    http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2006/01/06/ap2432341.html

    Most boring car in the world. But it is consistently the #1 selling car in the US. Why, because it solves a problem. Cheap, and reliable. It works.

    To a designer, yeah, the site lacks flair. What percentage of the population are we (designers)? Who cares what we think if the thing works well and supports the mission. Well done agncn.org.

     
  4. 4 Nathan Smith

    Jesse: I agree that this site is a bit sparse on the visual side of things, but it “gets the job done,” and exemplifies the sort of coding standards that we’re trying to promote at Godbit. Could they benefit from the services of a graphic designer? Yes, but It’s more functional than 90% of all Christian sites out there.

    I debated whether or not to feature it, but then I considered the mission statement of Godbit, to promote web standards. My reasoning is this: There are enough pretty, but totally inaccessible church sites out there, that when one comes along that’s the opposite: functional but humble, we pay it no attention.

    I’m not saying this site is going to “wow” people with a campaign of shock and awe. In my opinion, it could use some sprucing up visually. Then again, we’re not Stylegala. I’d rather see accessibility emphasized first, and then visual design, rather than a site that looks beautiful but relies on image-maps.

     
  5. 5 David Hemphill

    I echo those remarks, David. If it works, leave it be! Not every site has to be a Stylegala winning entry to be a good entry.

    It’s well structured, well coded, and well suited to the audience who could probably care less.

     
  6. 6 David Russell

    Flair is nice, but function first. I also believe this site is well-suited for the target audience. I’m also a huge fan of the Camry and I love that analogy. It works well, just like the site in question.

     
  7. 7 Jesse J. Anderson

    Ha, I just saw that this was submitted in the forums by someone, now I feel bad. =P

    Since the designer is among us it would probably be a lot more helpful if I were to give some feedback.

    Well first off, the code is way better than my crappy attempt at coding, trust me on that. =) But design-wise it’s all very bland, like I said before there is no real color other than the default blue links and it’s very spreadsheet link in it’s very blocky layout. The navigation works nicely, and like nathan said I’m glad you avoided using drop-down menus that are all so cliche for church websites… the method you used works much better, although (maybe it’s just me) there’s some confusion between what’s on the Home page and what’s on the News page.

    Now the car analogy – I just plucked out of the air and I think its getting out of hand… but the argument I’m making is – If you had the choice between a car that looked like a Pinto and a car that looked like a Porsche, but they both ran exactly the same, were just as reliable, etc… which are you going to choose?

    There are way too many factors into why the Camry is the most-sold car (price, reliable, warranty, passenger space, MPG, etc) that take this out of context.

    All I’m saying is, if you already have the nice solid code underneath, why wouldn’t you want the outside to shine too? I’m risking another analogy here but, if I had written a really good book… I’d rather it have a nice looking cover than a crappy one.

     
  8. 8 Jesse J. Anderson

    Jeez… what’s with all the David’s! They’re coming out of the woodworks to disagree with me! =D

    It’s not a question of Function vs. Flair.

    It’s more a question of Boring & Functional vs. Well Designed & Functional.

     
  9. 9 Nathan Smith

    Jesse: You make a good point. They have a rock-solid framework. Perhaps you could collaborate with Frank and re-work the design? I agree, that we need more “meeting of the minds” between clearly gifted graphical designers, such as yourself, and usability / accessibility minded folks. Obviously, we can’t all be like Shaun Inman, possessing perfect right + left brained balance. So, we need to have more synergy between people with complimentary skill-sets.

     
  10. 10 David Russell

    I love Godbit so much. :) I just don’t say it enough.

    You’re cool Jesse. I get your vibe.

    Great thoughts Nathan. Very well said.

     
  11. 11 Joshua

    I’m just excited to see an A/G site make the Godbit cut. That now makes a church from my state and a church from my denomination that have been featured. I need to get a move on!

    One thing I find noteworthy about this site is the sheer amount of real estate they give emphasizing syndication. While at first it feels out of place for a denom site, it does emphasize communication.

    As for the design comments above. Yeah, the designers among us could certainly provide some pointers or some nice header images for rotation. My district’s site is rather attractive, but also completely non-compliant. We should encourage and feature those taking the step to compliance, even if design needs some reworking.

     
  12. 12 Frank Johnson

    Wow! Lots to digest here and I’m not exactly sure how to respond. Let me give it a try, though (I’ll warn you in advance – this is going to be long).

    1. I am not a graphic designer. Notice that I specifically said that when I posted in the Website Critique discussion forum.

    2. I am not even a coder per se. If I told you how long it took me to muddle through the code, trying everything I could think of to get certain sections right, etc., you’d understand what I mean.

    3. I am primarily a strategist. In my day job, I handle e-commerce strategy, usability, pay-per-click campaigns, email marketing, strategic partnerships, etc. for a catalog company. In what I do for churches and ministries, I tend to think in the same terms: what is the purpose of a church website and how is that purpose best accomplished? To be honest, I think strategy is the missing element in 99% of all church and ministry websites I see. From my perspective, a good designer and a good coder are essential, but churches and ministries should start out by looking for someone who can talk to them about strategy. My dream is to not do graphics or coding at all, but only to consult on strategy issues. That’s going to be very difficult given the current approach most churches and ministries take to websites, but it’s my dream anyway.

    4. By the way, I drive a Camry – guess that tells you something about my boring life. (grin)

    5. Jesse – I’m glad you decided to give more specific feedback when you realized I was “among you.” The only thing I would say is that, in today’s world, the designer is always going to be “among you.” GodBit is only a search and a click away. I routinely search for sites that are linking to websites I’ve worked on. Even if I had not submitted the site in the forums and if Nathan had somehow found the site and decided to feature it, I would have eventually read your comments as a result of those routine searches I perform. If I hadn’t posted in the forums, I assume you would not have added your later comments which were more specific. When I found this page, all I would have seen from you would have been: “boring,” “no actual design,” “non-existent color scheme.” Gosh, I didn’t know that the little site I developed was endangering the future of the internet! (grin)

    6. I love the stated mission of GodBit. But in this case, I don’t think the process facilitated the mission. I posted the site in the website critique forum because I was hoping for some helpful feedback which would eventually lead to improvements to the site. What I got, at least initially, was disdain, negative criticism, and an attitude that seemed to be saying, “You’re really not part of our club.” I currently recommend GodBit on my ministry site and have recommended GodBit at least once in personal conversations during the last few weeks. But if my experience was the norm (and I don’t think it is), I probably would steer people in other directions.

    7. On to more specifics. Jesse, when you say that the site has a blocky feel, I definitely understand what you mean. As a non-designer, I tend to think in blocky terms. (grin) And I would love to give the site a softer feel, but that’s not in my current make-up, if you know what I mean. Can you point me to some sites which you would think of as non-blocky? Just to give me some ideas to ponder.

    8. Regarding boring and bland vs. well-designed. Think of who the audience is. This is a denominational website. Conservative and traditional. Largely 40-50 year olds. David Hemphill is right – they couldn’t care less. They want to be able to come to the site and quickly get the information they need. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want it to be well-designed. Just that my initial goal has been that functionality be improved. The old site was not particularly well-organized, used drop-down menus which didn’t work on all platforms, consistently had outdated information because the lack of a content management system resulted in bottlenecks, etc. My primary goal was to improve those aspects of the site.

    The purpose of the vast majority of websites, it seems to me, is to convey information and persuade people to action. Read this article on my ministry site – http://urlsnip.com/786800 – for more of my perspective on this. In most cases, design won’t convey information and persuade people in our target audience to action to the same extent as words and content will.

    If the denomination had an unlimited budget for their website, I would have hired a graphic designer to work on the visual aspects of the site. But they are not cash-rich so we muddle through. If I have to choose (because of budgetary reasons) between the visual aspects and the functionality/content aspects, for this target audience, I will always choose to improve the functionality and content.

    I am currently working with a church plant that is targeting young families in the Atlanta area. When they contacted me about doing a website for them about a year ago, they wanted it to be live in about a week. I threw something together – not all that attractive visually, but no spinning crosses, cheesy MIDI files, etc. (you get the idea). I told the pastor a couple of days ago that we should finally start thinking about redesigning the site and I recommended that they allow me to hire a graphic designer. The person I’m thinking of using creates elegant but not edgy visuals. Perfectly appropriate for the target audience the church is trying to reach.

    If I were working with a church targeting college students and they had the resources, I’d be hiring a graphic designer who contributes to GodBit. But trust me, if I were to use a similar look and feel to what I find on some of your sites on agncn.org, the target audience of agncn.org would shudder. I’m 47 years old (too old to try and change my blocky, boring ways, but not too old to recognize my shortcomings and look for someone to help me with design issues!). To be honest, when I look at some of the sites of people who are contributing here, my first impression is “loud” and “obnoxious.” I have to match the visual aspects to the target audience. If the visual aspects keep my target audience from reading the content, I’ve failed, even though the site may be visually striking.

    Again, if design elements distract from the purpose of the site (to convey information and persuade), then something is wrong. For example, Shaun Inman’s site is visually intriguing to me. The functionality of his navigation menu is pretty elegant even though it is not traditional. But I find it very difficult to read. For me at least, design has gotten in the way of (at least what I perceive to be) the purpose of the site – to convey information.

    9. Regarding color scheme. I’m color-scheme-challenged as well! I will say that I have a definite philosophy when it comes to color on a church or ministry website. My philosophy may not accomplish my purpose at all, but I do have a basis on which I make choices. To me, the vast majority of church and ministry websites say the following to unbelievers: “We’re all about programs, organization, bureaucracy, etc.” That’s why church websites talk about departments, staff biographies, events, etc. and don’t talk about people at all. I want to see church websites which convey the impression to unbelievers that we’re about people, not programs. The way I have attempted to do that is to make the majority of a website black and white and gray except for photos of people. My thinking is that this makes people the most prominent thing on the site. Again, my approach may not accomplish my purpose at all, but it’s how I’ve looked at it so far.

    Sorry for the length of this post, but I wanted to wait until everyone had finished commenting before I responded.

    Thanks,
    Frank

     
  13. 13 Frank Johnson

    A couple of other thoughts, one clarifying something in my last post and the other responding to something Joshua said.

    1) When talking about Shaun Inman’s site, I said that “I find it very difficult to read.” I was referring to Shaun’s site as a whole, not necessarily just the navigation system.

    2) One of the reasons I decided to stress syndication, social networking, etc. is because this is a site that is going to be primarily viewed by the over 1,500 ministers of our district. One thing you folks can’t see is an initial article on the front page of the site that is only viewable by logged-in ministers and logged-in employees of the district.

    The article talks extensively about some of these features – how syndication allows you to expand your reach, how they can read headlines in their newsreaders or on their handheld devices, how standards-compliance facilitates better search engine placement (which has vast implications for the spread of the gospel through digital means), etc.

    My goal is to stretch the thinking of pastors, churches, and ministries to realize that there is much more they can do with the web than they are currently doing. Again, I’m a strategist – trying to change a limited mindset when it comes to digital tools.

    Frank

     
  14. 14 Jesse J. Anderson

    Crap, I wrote a big long post but somehow it screwed up and I lost it.

    Anyways the basics of what I said:

    • My original post was more a critique of the site being selected as a featured site, than of the site itself.

    • Yes, the original designer probably would’ve found this site but there’s a big difference between discovering someone wote a negative review about your website, and you coming to a community site asking for feedback and just getting trash-talked.

    • I’m actually not a fan of Shaun Inman’s site either, I think it looks cool and it works because of his audience… but the navigation is somewhat confusing… ironically his site design was featured at Web Standards Awards and I wrote a somewhat controversial post there as well… but I swear it’s not like a past-time of mine or anything. =)

    • Anyways I understand that you don’t want a site that looks like a rock bands website with that “wicked worn” look, which is a lot of the style that I do prefer. But there are plenty of really nice looking sites with good code to back it up that do very much fit with your target audience.

    http://www.anthonyphillips.org.uk/code/about.html
    http://al.nd.edu/
    http://www.woodlandsurvivalcrafts.com/

    • I would offer to help if it was wanted but, unfortunately clean designs are my biggest difficulty… I’ve been trying to put together a website for my friend’s dance studio for forever and i just can’t that clean look down. =)

     
  15. 15 Rich Tatum

    I’ve known Frank for years, and I knew he’d be the first to pipe up and tell you he’s not a designer … and I’d guess that’s why he submitted the site for critique here. Props to Frank and agncn for getting selected as a solidly designed site running on standards. Something I don’t do so well myself, though I should know better.

    I may be butting in where I’m not welcome, sorry, but my view of design is that the graphical elements are subservient to the overall goal of communication—design shouldn’t be primarily about the “look” of a site, but to facilitate the communication process. Franks site’s generally do that very well. And in this day of information overload everywhere, a heavily information-oriented site really demands a very clean design. I suspect that’s why Google gets more props and Yahoo is slipping. Clutter obfuscates. Beauty can sometimes detract from the information and become the end of itself.

    Regards,

    Rich.
    BlogRodent

     

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