2004 Liberal Campaign Website Review

By Greg Farries on Jun 20, 2004

Liberal.ca is a well designed website with many valuable features available to the interested web surfer. The site contains extensive background information on Prime Minister Paul Martin, the candidates running for the party, and the party’s official policy platforms. The site also contains a multimedia section full of video footage, TV ads, photo galleries and slideshows. One particularly attractive feature of the multimedia section is the availability of logos and style guides for those who are interested in the downloading the logo. The newly designed logo is an improvement from the old one and it works well with the updated website design.

Liberal.ca is an attractive and useful website; however, there are a few problems inherent in the design. The first and possibly the leading problem was that of all the major political parties involved in the 2004 federal election, it was the Liberal party of Canada that failed to capitalize initially on the use of the web in the campaign. It was well over a week into the campaign before Liberal.ca was updated and redesigned to reflect the new priorities and direction of the party during an election. And, unfortunately, even after the redesign and numerous updates, the website failed to stress that an election was even taking place. For the most part, the website hardly changed; giving the impression that the website and anyone who bothers to visit it were not important enough to warrant attention. Whereas the Conservative and NDP party both launched redesigned versions of their official party websites immediately after the writ dropped, Liberal.ca was only partially redesigned and was late on the scene.

There also appeared to be a lack of a coherent strategy in presenting the Liberal party’s important policy/platform positions in a way that is easy to access and easy to digest. When the user selects the Platform button, which is conveniently located on the left navigation bar, the user is presented with a brief message from Paul Martin and then a long summary of the current party policy positions. At first glance the summary appears to be the only content available on party positions; however, if the user by chance looks to the sidebar containing a block of image buttons running down the right-hand side of the site, he or she will notice that some, but not all, of the image buttons correspond with certain section of the policy platform summary. If in fact that user is lucky enough to notice that the top image button is labeled Contents, then indeed the user will be able to view a table of contents for the full policy platform. This convoluted and confusing method of viewing the party’s platform will undoubtedly confuse some users and is less than ideal for those interested in learning more about the Liberal party’s platform.

Another major problem with the site is the sheer size and overuse of sidebars. The main sidebar – the sidebar that is located on the bottom left of each page of the site – seems to have been thrown together with little thought as to how the user will actually use the page. Some of the buttons contained within this sidebar link directly to sections of the site that can be found through the main navigation bar (Photo Slideshow, Election Ads), while others buttons link to sections of the site that are only accessible through the sidebar (Be Heard, Volunteer, Reality Checks, Join the Party). This creates a situation that is confusing to the user because he or she must scan the whole page before finding the appropriate section. This unfortunate situation is only compounded by the fact that important sections of the site, such as “Join the Party” and “Volunteer,” have been relegated only to the sidebar. The only way to access these important parts of the site is by selecting the corresponding button in the sidebar as they are not made available through the main navigation bar. If new party members and volunteers are important to a campaign (and we can assume they are), one wonders why these sections are not important enough to be given a higher profile under the main navigation bar? The overuse and confusing sidebars along with the late start the website got placed this otherwise strong campaign website at a distinct disadvantage when compared to the websites of the other parties.

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