Do we expect charities to make innovative websites? Most of the charity and third sector websites I see are workhorses, carrying shedloads of practical information on the one hand and colourful fundraising and campaign material on the other. The third sector is becoming as competitive as the private sector in many ways so charity and social enterprise websites may have to become more innovative just to keep up.
Innovate to keep up
A lot of charities have had to recognise that their long-standing brand identities have become outdated (see my previous post about this subject) and need to be refreshed and in the same way it’s a good idea that your website gets refreshed probably at much shorter intervals than your brand. If anything the online medium is now developing so fast that your website(s) will need to be reviewed and modernised on a regular basis. When was your last major website review?
Flexibility is the key element, and modern sites need to be able to deliver both fast changing news type content and slowly evolving archive content and it all has to be easy to access. It is in this context that I want to look at some innovative website ideas, I am thinking of both innovative functionality and design, things that really make an organisation or campaign stand out from the crowd.
This example is quite recognizable as a charity website, it’s just bolder and bigger in most of its elements, big photos, big text and big headings so the overall effect is different and fresh. The most striking thing is the innovative big picture dropdowns, an extension of the mega-menu idea that once you see it will make you wonder why you have not seen it before and how long it will take before you see it everywhere.
And there is more; here is a really good visual concept using a global map, it uses a familiar image, the world map and distorts it according to child mortality rates in each country. Cartographers will be familiar with this kind of distortion but the other 99.9% will not be so it is good to see something used in such an imaginative and constructive way.
A much less conventional and exciting if slightly disorienting experience comes from the National LGBT museum a site campaigning for a national US museum about gender and sexual identity.
Here everything moves when you scroll and the main menu hides itself until you rollover a brightly coloured triangle at the top of the page. This site breaks all kinds of rules and conventions and it seems fitting that it should, it is fresh, different and radical. No doubt it would not be everyone’s cup of tea but then that’s diversity for you. In this context it works for me, what do you think?
Spark & Mettle
In terms of innovation in design the look and feel of this site aimed at young people stands out. The homepage is particularly striking and colourful. The sites’ aim is to “match young people with spark and mettle to brilliant companies and organisations” (I think this means internships).
Here is another interesting application of online mapping technology. This site has found a really neat way to integrate Google maps into its homepage and engage users at the earliest opportunity by getting them to look at their own street. It’s impressive as a an instant engagement and the kind of thing that could spread virally via social media and email. Conceptually it fits really well with the campaign to improve our pavements and spread the experience of walking.
What is beginning to become evident to me is that broad conceptual thinking is the driver of change and innovative uses of existing and new technology. Here is an example of that kind of thinking applied to economic and social issues in Ireland that is also presented in a fresh and exciting way. Both the medium and the message are challenging and fresh, it’s a great combination.
Lastly here is a hard hitting idea (slavery is a current problem not just a historical one) presented in a very contemporary interactive way. Slavery footprint asks you to fill in an illustrated interactive form so it gets you thinking about yourself as a consumer and then it presents you with the consequences in terms of the number of slaves you use. It is shocking, powerful, beautifully presented and entertaining all at the same time.
Can you make time for innovation?
So I wonder if any of these ideas strike a chord? Is there room in your busy schedule and in straightened economic times to take time out and think about radical and new ways of getting your message across that either use new technology, clever new combinations of technology and marketing ideas or simply better applications of existing website technology?
It’s worth mentioning here that in my opinion there is a lot of mileage in charities learning to better exploit website technology by thinking more imaginatively about ways of organising and presenting information but perhaps that is material for another blog…
3rd sector excellence awards 2012 – see the websites shortlist, several of the sites above are included.
Simon Fell is Senior Designer at Pedalo Limited
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