I critique the major political parties the only way that I know how… With a geeky UX review.
Look I’ll admit it. I’m completely hopeless when it comes to politics.
My idea of a good party involves gin and some 80’s tunes – so most of the debate around the upcoming general election is lost on me.
In spite of my usual apathy though, it’s difficult to avoid the hubbub and drama of an election. The topic is pretty much inescapable in Britain right now, and I can’t help but show some interest.
Today I figured it was time to do some investigation. I’m going to critique the major parties the only way I know how… With a website review.
A couple of disclaimers here, people.
- I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who is total fence-sitter in the world of politics. I’m the very definition of a floating voter - I don’t have any real preconceptions or biases, so this should be pretty balanced.
- In keeping with the theme of my blog (and my slightly stunted worldview), I’m only reviewing the site user experience. I won’t be critiquing any party policies. Just shitty web design.
For each party I’m checking out the main website. My main criteria are…
- First impressions. You never get a second chance at a first impression. What happens when I first land on the site?
- Navigation & ease of use. I’m visiting the sites to learn about the parties and their main policies. How easily can I find this information?
- Persuasion. What techniques does the site employ to convince me to get involved, and support the party?
- Overall design. Does it look nice, and do I generally enjoy using it?
Right, let’s start learning about political web design!
Labour opts for a super-minimalist landing page that I really appreciate. It politely asks me if I’m voting Labour, allowing me to select if I’m voting or undecided.
I really like this approach. It holds fire on the waffle, and just gives extremely clear choices to address the two main kinds of people visiting the site. They get big points for this.
I click that I’m undecided, and Labour promptly lose those they earned points with what happens next.
Instead of taking me to any content, they immediately ask me for my email address in a field that has been marked as required with a ‘*’.
Cheeky bastards. I’ve literally just told them that I’m undecided. Instead of doing anything to convince me, they’re asking me to give up my personal data and potentially open myself up to a world of spam.
Eventually I noticed a teeny-tiny ‘continue to main site’ link in the top-right, but if I hadn’t noticed this it would have been a massive barrier.
I feel like Labour could learn a lot from ecommerce sites. Earn the visitors trust first; then convince them to give over their information. And for god’s sake, tell them what you’re going to do with it too!
I dipped my head into some cold water to cool off, and entered the site. Things got a lot better from here.
Navigation & ease of use
The site presents information in a really clear, readable way. It uses a single-column layout that explains one thing at a time.
The navigation is super clear; clearly breaking out the information I’ve come here for. All of the tasks that I’d deem as ‘secondary’ have been tucked into a collapsible hamburger menu. I can’t really fault it.
The site has a really cool ‘manifesto creator’ feature, where I can highlight my top three issues. It then takes me to a customised page that tells me how Labour will address those issues in my area.
This was actually a really useful feature for familiarising myself with the party policies. It also got me straight into the information I wanted.
Links to other policy areas were also clearly visible, and I could download the whole thing as a PDF if I wanted.
The rest of the site features are pretty standard. There’s a decent blog that helps me explore more of what the party is all about. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s functional and well designed. Profile pages bring all of that person’s related blog content into a single place, which is a nice touch.
The site also has some great imagery, though it’s used sparingly keeping things nice and fast.
Large, high-contrast typography is used throughout and certain quotes and key passages are emphasised, making the content easy to scan.
The nice use of type, white space and quality photos make this design really quite impactful. The designer has done a great job.
The Labour website is wonderfully designed and really easy to use. It also presents the policies in an interesting way, and I had no trouble finding what I wanted. The whole thing feels premium and well thought-through.
It’s just a real shame about that presumptuous landing page. As in other areas of life you can be as attractive as you like, but don’t expect people to give up the goods until you’ve put some work in!
(UX and dating advice. You get it all here!)
Again with the e-mail addresses! Do these politicians understand nothing of tact?!
Just like with Labour’s site, I’m presented with the option of being ‘in’ or being undecided. Whatever I choose, they want my email address without telling me what they’ll use it for.
It makes me wonder why they’re even asking the question.
I’m also treated to an incredibly huge but slightly uninspiring photograph of David Cameron trying to lead his wife out of a dark, crowded room.
Just like on Labour’s site, I can get past this screen using a really small ‘skip to main site’ link in the bottom-right. Because of the image background the link is even lower contrast than Labour’s version.
I just can’t comprehend the logic in this, I’d love to see what the bounce rate looks like. Once I’ve escaped, I get through to the main site home page.
I’m not quite sure what to look at. There’s a lot of text and images going on - some of which don’t seem particularly relevant.
A child playing with a model for ‘Our Manifesto’? Two girls doing some kind of baking for the ‘Income Tax Cut’? I don’t get it. It’s a far cry from the clean and concise design of Labour’s website
Navigation & ease of use
This theme of information overload carries into the navigation too. Unlike Labour who tuck their secondary site functions into a burger menu, the conservatives try and show everything all at once.
They also have much wordier section titles such as ‘you and your family’ and ’share the facts’. This doesn’t help matters. A big fat e-mail signup field is also shoved up there, further filling out the already busy header.
It all results in things looking very cluttered and cramped, and I don’t feel like I’m directed to any one specific piece of information.
The one thing that is visually emphasised is ‘donate’, using a standout red colour. This is clearly intended for the ‘in’ crowd though. I don’t even know what the party policies are yet, so pushing me to donate seems a little forward.
When viewing the party manifesto, individual issues and topics aren’t broken out. I’m given no way of quickly finding the information that’s important to me - it’s all in a big wall of text that isn’t hugely clear.
Looking for some more information about the party, I went to the ‘You and your family’ section. Being a smelly loner I am, the ‘family’ part didn’t seem hugely relevant, but I gave it a shot.
This is a feature that will apparently tell me how the manifesto will help me; but it requires me to Facebook login. Again, the site puts up barriers between me and the policy information.
On the positive, the conservatives’ blog content is actually positioned really interestingly. It’s labeled as ‘share the facts’, and aims to provide a more incentive-driven approach to editorial content. Visitors are rewarded with points for sharing blog content, which translate into rewards.
It seems a little complicated, but it’s a good idea to encourage loyalty and get their content viral. I don’t think there’s any appeal here for an undecided voter like me, but it’s a nice little touch for the ‘in’ crowd.
The site allows me to quickly get to a profile of my local MP, taking me straight here after putting in my post-code. The expediency is appreciated but again the policies aren’t really broken out very clearly, and I have to really read into the text to get what I want.
The site uses the conservative brand colors quite well; but it’s also very text-heavy and shouty. There’s a lot of big block-capital type going on, and it makes things quite intense.
Information is never really broken up, and the line length is often very long too. It all adds up to a site that’s very information-dense, and quite hard to read.
Coming straight from the Labour site, the Conservatives’ offering seems quite old-fashioned. They haven’t brought important information to the forefront, instead deciding to shove everything in your face all at once.
There’s also a real hunger for your personal information, to the point where it acts as a big barrier to a lot of the content. There are some interesting ideas going on here, but you’ve got to cut through far too much noise to get there.
The Lib Dem website takes me straight into the content without trying to nab my personal details. I wouldn’t generally think of this as point worth noting, but after my last two experiences it’s a huge breath of fresh air.
The first thing I’m greeted with is a slightly bizarre callout that ‘the NHS needs an extra £8bn’. I’m not quite sure what I’m expected to do with this information, but they ask me for my email address.
Who are you, and why are you telling me this? It seems an odd focus, and a strange choice for the most visually promintent element. As I scroll down I can find some much better calls to action, which are unfortunately buried quite far down the page.
Navigation & ease of use
The navigation is short and sweet, breaking out the content into a few areas that are clearly labeled. A drop-down on the manifesto label also allows provides quick links to the more popular policy areas, which is a nice touch.
Within these sections the content is drawn out pretty clearly, using larger headings and tables where necessary. The only downside is that a lot of images of text are used around the site, which nobody has written alt-text for. This is a slightly poor show for accessibility, and a bit of a shame when the actual content is quite good.
The site provides a lot of space for promoted content in the right-hand column, but it can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to focus on the information.
The thought is there though. The content they’re promoting is nice and relevant to the page you’re on, showing stories about the NHS on the ‘health’ manifesto page.
The Lib Dem site is pretty straightforward. Beyond the normal ‘about’-type content, it’s really just the news area. No other additional features, so far as I could see.
So no bells and whistles to be found here, but the content is published pretty frequently and like the conservatives they also offer rewards sharing. They’re also cross-linking to news pretty effectivley throughout the site, promoting related articles on manifesto pages.
The profile pages are pretty unconvincing though; just a short, dry biography for each person. It’s a shame they didn’t utilise the news cross-linking on these pages too. As it stands, they’re kind of boring.
The site is clean, albeit slightly uninspiring. Content is presented relatively clearly, with high-contrast type.
The site also suffers pretty heavily from ‘unrelated photograph’ syndrome. The designer’s decision to pair every content article with an image means that some have been used with little consideration to its meaning.
For example, the link to submit a motion uses an image of the millennium bridge. Whilst very lovely, it doesn’t really convey any relevance or meaning to the content, and unnecessarily increases the page weight.
The Liberal Democrat website is a fairly competent, no-frills experience.
It’s not groundbreaking or modern in any sense, but information is well structured and straightforward to find.
UKIP are known for being controversial, but in this case they’ve chosen to run with the crowd. That’s right, they’ve gone for the woefully standard irritating e-mail signup splash page™.
I’m not going to launch into this same rant again, because by now I think my opinions are pretty well known. The only saving grace for UKIP is that their ‘continue to website’ link is slightly more prominent than the others. Be thankful for small mercies, I suppose.
Whilst the visual branding could be confused with a Turkish supermarket’s website, the UKIP home page signposts most of the key user journeys pretty clearly. With three straightforward calls to action and a video for the election broadcast, it supports most of the main visitor needs.
Navigation & ease of use
The UKIP site is structured in a pretty sensible way. There are just three main sections, each one corresponding to the user’s level of commitment to the party. This keeps the navigation super straightforward, much more so than the other main party websites.
The presentation of information works. There aren’t any distractions, and sub-headings / bullet points are used to good effect. The downside is that articles pages are often really long, and content isn’t broken up very effectively. It’s not easy for me to pinpoint one specific topic or issue, like I could on the Labour and Lib Dem websites.
Whilst the structure is logical and the pages are straightforward, there isn’t any kind of related content. Nothing really tells me what I should be looking at next, or where I can find further information if I’m interested.
There isn’t an awful lot happening on the UKIP website in the way of additional features. There’s some social feeds embedded throughout the site, but they aren’t ever particularly relevant to the content.
There’s a news area, but without any kind of related content cross-linking, it seems relatively detached from the wider site content. Pretty standard really.
What’s also disappointing is the lack of any kind of profile content in the ‘our people’ area. Each MP is given a mug shot, and that’s about it. No biography at all, let alone any kind of social or blog integration.
Let’s be honest. UKIP’s branding could be confused with that a pound shop. This isn’t really the website’s fault, as technically it is on-brand. But it’s not a looker, that’s for sure.
In spite of the dreary look-and-feel though, things aren’t too bad. Text is big, high-contrast and easy to read. Likewise, key UI elements like button and links are made very clear, and information is generally presented in a structured way.
The UKIP site is a bit of an ugly ducking. The navigation is pretty simple, and content is clear enough – but it’s incredibly straightforward, and very light on content/features.
Oh, and it’s ugly as sin. Not sure if I mentioned that part.
Whilst I’m still not entirley certain where my vote is going, it’s clear that Labour have invested some serious time and money into their site’s UX. In terms of overall usability and design they’re miles in front of the competition. It’s also worth noting that Labour has the only responsive website.
Onsaying that though, I really don’t appreciate this common tendancy to be pushy about personal data collection. The most effective ecommerce websites show us that a soft-sell approach really is the best way to convert people. Don’t put up barriers, just give visitors what they need. Provide a good experience and visitors will respect you for it.
Of the four sites I looked at only the Lib Dems weren’t pushing aggressively for personal data - and they win major kudos for that.
It’s interesting that the two websites offering the better experiences (in my opinion) are both from left-wing parties. I wonder if this has to do with a younger, more ‘progressive’ attitude toward digital campaigns? Or maybe a younger audience?
Either way - there’s a definite difference in website quality between parties, and for a floating voter like me it could make big difference!