Initial critique of the new RIBA website

It needs to work for a variety of stakeholders - members, clients, students, the public to name but a few.

But does it deliver? Let’s take a look.

Home Page

The new home page is a tour-de-fource of effects, using modern effective graphics and coding techniques. The home page consists of:

  • Full width, constant height background video at the top of the page (changing to a static image when mobile devices are detected)
  • Minimal menu, which is ‘sticky’ at the top of the window when scrolling down
  • A host of images, stretcher-bond style, with a slight parallax movement visible on scrolling. These  feature a colour-coded overlay when they are hovered over, displaying an extended description of the article which can be explored once the link is clicked.

There is a bit too much movement and colour for my liking - a bit more restraint might have helped. However, it makes a change from most dull corporate home pages (yes, I’m looking at you, RICS)

Feature pages

Click on one of these featured articles for the home page, takes you to, for example, this page on Mies van der Rohe. This retains the menu from the home page but the rest of the page becomes much more minimal in style (in this case appropriately). It uses similar parallax effects on the images and shows a great use of fonts, particularly the brilliant pink upper case Bariol Bold for the headlines. Text is large, stylish and legible with the single column layout being used to display images to good effect.

Getting around

The site great to explore. We all like finding new and unexpected places. However, the absence of one’s sense of place within the site is alarming. It's not so much the fun of exploring a new city but more finding yourself inside Nottingham’s famous cave network, with the lights out and only a torch and a ball of string for guidance. Where am I? What should I look at next?  Where are related resources? All clues are absent (or at least, semi-hidden) to your location on the site. The only way to get around seems to be going back tho the home page and clicking on another of the featured articles.

Mobile experience

b2ap3_thumbnail_RIBA_mobile.jpgThe image (left) is an actual size screenshot taken on an iPhone of the home page of the website.

To put this into context, over 30% of the UK’s web traffic is now on mobile devices, not conventional computers. The RIBA’s response? Render the site exactly the same as on a desktop computer - complete with tiny images and unreadable text.

This is pretty unforgivable for such a large and (presumably) expensive site. It is only to be hoped that this is a staged launch of the new site with optimisation for mobile phones following on shortly. Also, for RIBA members, the poor performance of the ‘find an architect’ pages on mobiles is a cause for concern.

Initial conclusion

There’s a lot of great, original content to immerse yourself in on the RIBA site and that is to be commended, as is much of the appearance of the new design, both on the home page and those deeper into the site. However, the site’s design and development team really should have read the article on ‘How to tell if a building is well designed’ which reminds us all of Vitruvius’s test of firmness, commodity and delight - I’m unsure that the website’s commissioners really paid much attention to the site’s commodity.

The future

Fortunately, places constructed in the virtual world are far more easily adapted than those in the physical environment, so retrofitting sensible navigation, mobile experience and showing greater restraint when choosing visual effects could result in a site that just not just looks good but performs well, too. 

All style and no substance is a phrase sometimes, incorrectly, used of architects’ profession - let’s hope that RIBA do their best to dispel this; with a series of slight reworks can show that a good design is one that works effortlessly.

Tagged in: Architecture