Dec 08

Masjid Fresno Website: Mistakes to Avoid

Masjid Fresno at Sunset

Masjid Fresno at Sunset

I’ve been living in Fresno, California for about a year and a half now (this time around – I went to junior high school here, and attended university here as well). There are four mosques here, the oldest of which is “Masjid Fresno”, located on Shaw Avenue across from Fresno State University. I remember when the mosque on this lot was simply a small, rented house. Most of the attendees were international students from Malaysia, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, back in the days when the USA still admitted Muslim students freely. There were a few walnut trees in the yard, and after prayer we would shake the trees until some walnuts fell, then work on cracking them open to eat the walnuts. There was a ping pong table in back, no place to park, and not enough room inside.

Later the community bought that house, and then in 1987 or so tore it down and built this modern mosque. It’s large and attractive, but I will always remember that tiny house where I had good friends, walnuts and ping pong.

The Masjid Fresno Website

Well, enough with the reminiscences. When I talk to people at the mosque and they find out I’m a web developer, they often complain to me about the mosque’s website. They say that it’s too cluttered, difficult to navigate, and generally not useful. One person told me that the Imam pays a web development company $400 per month to maintain the site, and has rejected offers from Muslim students to do it free of charge.

As far as appearance and navigation, they are right. The Masjid Fresno website is a case in point of what not to do as far as design and usability. Animations and small icons overwhelm the page and make it difficult to focus on any single thing. Some of these small icons lead to pages with more icons, some initiate pdf downloads, and some cause new windows to pop-up. There is no indication in advance of what action each image might perform. It’s like clicking on a field of jack-in-the-boxes, not knowing what will pop out.

The only saving grace is a column of text links on the left side that lead to a few useful, if still poorly designed, features.

In January 2008, Smashing Magazine wrote a classic piece on the 10 principles of effective website design. See the article for details. I will summarize the ten principles here:

10 Principles of Effective Web Design

  1. Don’t make users think
  2. Don’t squander users’ patience
  3. Manage to focus users’ attention
  4. Strive for feature exposure
  5. Make use of effective writing
  6. Strive for simplicity
  7. Don’t be afraid of the white space
  8. Communicate effectively with a “visible language”
  9. Conventions are our friends
  10. Test early, test often

The masjid Fresno website violates almost every one of these guidelines. It makes me think like a overclocked computer processor; it squanders my patience left and right; it scatters my attention; there is no effective writing on the home page; it is as far from simple as it can get; you’d find more white space in the Amazon; and there is no acknowledgment of conventions, meaning what the typical user would expect to find, and where.

I give the Masjid Fresno website a 2 out of 10 on the design and usability scale.

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