Circles suck

In web design, we are constantly handed new tools and techniques. While it’s fun to play with them and explore, many designers fail to ask themselves a fundamental question when using new web technologies: Will this really make my site better?

What do we mean by better? The answer varies with the site’s principal audience. Usually, I would argue that “better” means:

  • Faster loading 
  • Easier to navigate
  • Clearer access to desired information
  • Optimal use of screen real estate for maximum impact
  • Clearly conveys message to all users
  • Easier (or, at least, just as easy) to update in the future

In the past, and unfortunately in the present, many web sites have used Flash to make an impression on visitors. The pitfalls of Flash design have been listed ad nauseum by many others, so I won’t do that here. Instead, I offer a case study: Madrid’s 2016 Olympic bid promotional site. 


Quite frankly, this site is just terrible. Let’s set aside the fact that it’s built in Flash and that each page takes nearly a minute to load even on a high-speed connection. The strange bouncing ball motif is annoying and pointless. The designers do not take advantage of any imagery of Madrid and instead focus on building some sort of space-aged Olympic brand image for the city. Scrollbars abound in tiny text fields while a giant circle dominates the screen, leaving horrendous amounts of white space since – not surprising to anyone, I hope – all current computer screens are rectangular.

Now, I have also dreamed of breaking out of this confining rectangle. I have toyed with circles and other shapes in my designs. But who is this site good for? Which users does it target? Does this design make the site better?

As web technologies evolve, we are reaching a point where lines blur between them and more traditional media such as film and television. This website, if it were run as a fancy multimedia presentation in a board room, would certainly impress (although I still contend that the bouncing balls would confound anyone watching it). But this thing is not being used in a board room. It’s a website. And as much as we might like to make round websites, doing so will probably not be a truly ‘better’ option until 2016 itself. Or maybe even later.

Websites as multimedia sales pitches? Sounds great. But I hope designers will be responsible enough to consider the full user experience when building these new websites – even if the government agency employing them only cares about how the thing will wow the 115 members of the IOC. I hope they have a high-speed connection.