Ten Budgets Later

Ten years ago, back in 1997, when Reinvented was still called Digital Island and most of my work was with the Province of PEI, I went down to the Coles Building here in Charlottetown in the late afternoon and was locked inside, along with a bunch of reporters and camera operators, until 8:00 p.m. when then-Provincial Treasurer Pat Mella delivered the Provincial Budget address in the Legislative Assembly.

The result was this page on www.gov.pe.ca (back when web design was so much simpler…), the first appearance of the PEI budget on the Internet at the same time as it was delivered by the Treasurer.

Back in 1997 this meant dialing up to the Internet from an old Toshiba laptop from the desk of the Coles Building Commissionaire to upload HTML that had been finagled out of the original WordPerfect. The budget documents came to me on a floppy disk in an encrypted ZIP file. The whole thing took about 5 minutes to upload.

Other than the heady excitement of being locked up in the heart of the excitement, my strongest memory from that and future budgets was the green-tinted Nanaimo bars in amongst the collection of snacks and sandwiches provided to we temporary prisoners (I think they came from the Central Farmer’s Coop on Queen Street). They were dreamy. And caused my blood sugar to skyrocket. Which only added to the heady excitment of it all.

A quick review of the budget pages from the late 1990s provides a good tour through the evolution of the design of the Government website: 1997, 1999, 2003 (my favourite design of all) and today.

It’s easy to forget that back then we were considered foolish (at best) or crazy for bothering to put things like the budget online. Ten years later it’s expected.


Kevin's picture
Kevin on April 11, 2007 - 16:31 Permalink

It seems there’s a sense of “usefulness” that’s apparent the moment one looks at a web page — it’s like flavour in that it’s instantaneous. ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ is equally instanteous. I opened your four examples in four tabs and toggled through them and I agree, 2003 “tastes” best.

Stephanie's picture
Stephanie on April 11, 2007 - 17:20 Permalink

OK, guys. So what constitutes a “tasty” page? As a career newspaper hack who’s scrambling to get web-savvy, I’ve love some feedback from more experienced tasters.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on April 12, 2007 - 13:21 Permalink

As far as I can tell there is only a single element which will determine a good page from a bad: It must be visually obvious.

It must have nothing that draws the eye away from text or important information. Buttons, controls, flicking things, and grotesque (yet perhaps excellent) uses of bold color and textures, all have their own built-in attention-getting characteristics — they are all the enemy.

Heck, we spent a few million years developing brains that will (instantenously) track the slightest nuance of interest. This shouldn’t be exploited by developers to essentially say, “look how clever I am”. Instead they should use their cleverness to create visual structure that intentionally directs our reptillian brain toward the most important stuff on the page. The ISN page is an *excellent* version of how to NOT do this. We’d get a zero on the visual obviousness 10-scale.