Thou shall not suffer a (bad) web designer

In the First Book of Samuel, in the very famous scene between King Saul, the (dead) Prophet Samuel, and the Witch of Endor, the lesson to be learned is, poking about with things that are dead and buried is never a good idea. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this story in checking out the Vatican’s new web site today. If you thought it was a mess before – and oh, it was – you ain’t seen nothing yet. I don’t know why the tech department at The Holy See is trying to conjure up the spirits of web designers from 15 years ago, but they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Funny and unfortunately dead-on commentary on the Vatican’s new site design.

William Newton of Blog of the Courtier goes on to describe just some of the unfortunate design decisions which you [should read][newton

Unfortunately things have not changed since I wrote the Lost in the Holy See parody post back in 2005.

Lovers of parchment wallpaper will be thrilled that they have kept this in their design. Those who enjoy scrolling marquees will also be thrilled with the Pope’s tweet’s been scrolled across the screen.

Those nostalgic for 90’s web design will find much to like. For example documents still use table elements instead of CSS for layout. The only thing missing is a footer saying “This site optimized for Internet Explorer and screen size of 1024 X 768.” and perhaps an animated gif (encyclicals going in-and-out of a mailbox).

Take a look at the icons they use all over the Vatican’s site for social sharing. First off they actually spaced the icons using an underscore character. Plus the icons used have very poor resolution and the Google Plus icon is really bad looking. The Catholic Church has been doing icons for more than a millennium, surely they could do a better job with the modern icon. There really is no excuse for the icons used across the site such as the video icon they use.

The up arrow appearing at the top of documents on the Vatican site is really amazing. When you click on it, it goes to the top of the page. The fact that this arrow appears at the top of the page makes it super useful!

If you had selected English and on a page in English, doing a search with no results gives you this helpful message.


Assicurarsi che tutte le parole siano state digitate correttamente.

Provare con parole chiave diverse.

Provare con parole chiave piu generiche.

Hopefully this year on Pentecost I will get the gift of tongues!

As Billy noted:

Language: The default language setting for the site is “Italian”, and fair enough, since the people who maintain it are in Italy. However, virtually any site can be coded to detect the browser’s country of origin when a visitor lands there, and will adjust the language setting automatically. Why isn’t this possible here?

Why indeed?

Now if you were a normal person and saw a hyperlink that said (video) you just might think clicking it would display the video. What actually happens is that a video in wmv format will start to download to your computer. This is a format developed by Microsoft that will not play in any browser including Internet Explorer without downloading a plugin. I guess my only surprise is that their videos weren’t in RealPlayer format. Even if you were saddled by bad video format decisions in the past transcoding, even on a large scale, is just not that hard.

What is so exasperating is that there is really no good reason for this state of affairs. The Vatican run site is fairly decent design-wise and their icons are much better. Sure a serious redesign of the Vatican site is certainly an intensive task. Yet even the minor refresh they did is simply amateurish. Unfortunately the state of many official Catholic sites from the Vatican on down to diocese and parishes shows the same amateurishness. Although I have seen great improvement of diocesan sites over the years.

Note: “This site optimized for Internet Explorer and screen size of 1024 X 768.” is still used on the web site for a parish close to me. Their web site is embarrassing.


Jeffrey Miller (789 Posts)

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