CFI Website—Design/Branding Issues
Posted: 05 June 2006 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was recently looking at the CFI-Transnational website. I noticed a recent slight redesign, which prompted me to consider the site in a bit more detail. I hope and expect that this is a temporary look. There are so many problems. Generally speaking, these problems mirror those with the CFI’s magazines that we discussed earlier.

(1) The word "transnational" just sounds hokey. I understand the intention, but it’s like something from a bad sf novel. Why not just CFI-International? That would be much cleaner and less pretentious. We have to be concerned about not sounding like the cults we so carefully investigate.

(2) What’s with the italicized fonts underneath the globe? Are the words supposed to be appearing from behind the earth? It’s too reminiscent of something from Star Wars or 2001.

(3) There are altogether too many fonts on the page. To take one example of many, the "Camp Inquiry" font may be nice for kids, but putting it on the front page looks like Goofy just wandered into science class. One of the basics of branding and labeling is to keep the fonts to a minimum, and stick to one "look" per page, otherwise it tires the eye. The Camp Inquiry "look" can be on its own page.

(4) The page design is terribly busy and cluttered. There is a Camp Inquiry box, a Student Leadership banner, and other boxes and banners. Much as I like the "CFI Forums" button, it has to be brought in under a single design style, not as one of a bunch of different banners and buttons.

(5) The color scheme is frightening. Red white and blue is bad enough for the CFI button (really, it is VERY bad), but then with the different yellows (Camp Inquiry, Student Leadership Conference, CSICOP/CSH/CSMMH/CSER box) and white background ... none of this jells.

To take some websites that do this sort of thing very well:

(1) Point of Inquiry. Wow! Someone really got it right! PoI has a clean, simple look. The PoI logo and font is simple and elegant. Spare style, no clutter. A+.

(2) Check out: The Rockefeller Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation. Here are two worldwide (not to say "transnational") foundations of great size, scope and power. Their front page "looks", on the other hand, are simple, elegant, worldly. Few colors; few, well organized boxes.

(3) A TV show site: PBS’s Nova. Again, cool, simple, elegant, unpretentious. Great "science-y" feel.

(4) A museum site: Metropolitan Museum. Yes, it’s a museum, but with a worldwide focus and a huge amount of information on the site. Extremely well designed, simple, with few colors per page, few fonts.

(5) An educational and research foundation: The Brookings Institution. The site is a little busy, but relatively clear and direct.

In general, I think the CFI should be thinking of The New Yorker for the internet, or Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment for a new age. Branding is largely visual and it needs to get across the feel of being reliable, scientific, classic, direct, transparent.

As it stands, the CFI’s [i:1d2a723b10]look[/i:1d2a723b10] clashes with its [i:1d2a723b10]mission[/i:1d2a723b10].

The [b:1d2a723b10]mission[/b:1d2a723b10] is: [i:1d2a723b10]transparency, simplicity, reliability, directness, elegance[/i:1d2a723b10].

The [b:1d2a723b10]look[/b:1d2a723b10] says: [i:1d2a723b10]hokey, unreliable, all-over-the-place, busy, obscure, childish[/i:1d2a723b10].

Anyone have any disagreements, agreements, discussions on this issue?

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Posted: 05 June 2006 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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CFI Website—Design/Branding Issues

I was recently looking at the CFI-Transnational website . I noticed a recent slight redesign, which prompted me to consider the site in a bit more detail. I hope and expect that this is a temporary look. There are so many problems. Generally speaking, these problems mirror those with the CFI’s magazines that we discussed earlier .

(1) The word “transnational” just sounds hokey. I understand the intention, but it’s like something from a bad sf novel. Why not just CFI-International? That would be much cleaner and less pretentious. We have to be concerned about not sounding like the cults we so carefully investigate.

(2) What’s with the italicized fonts underneath the globe? Are the words supposed to be appearing from behind the earth? It’s too reminiscent of something from Star Wars or 2001.

(3) There are altogether too many fonts on the page. To take one example of many, the “Camp Inquiry” font may be nice for kids, but putting it on the front page looks like Goofy just wandered into science class. One of the basics of branding and labeling is to keep the fonts to a minimum, and stick to one “look” per page, otherwise it tires the eye. The Camp Inquiry “look” can be on its own page.

(4) The page design is terribly busy and cluttered. There is a Camp Inquiry box, a Student Leadership banner, and other boxes and banners. Much as I like the “CFI Forums” button, it has to be brought in under a single design style, not as one of a bunch of different banners and buttons.

(5) The color scheme is frightening. Red white and blue is bad enough for the CFI button (really, it is VERY bad), but then with the different yellows (Camp Inquiry, Student Leadership Conference, CSICOP/CSH/CSMMH/CSER box) and white background ... none of this jells.

To take some websites that do this sort of thing very well:

(1) Point of Inquiry . Wow! Someone really got it right! PoI has a clean, simple look. The PoI logo and font is simple and elegant. Spare style, no clutter. A+.

(2) Check out: The Rockefeller Foundation . The MacArthur Foundation . Here are two worldwide (not to say “transnational”) foundations of great size, scope and power. Their front page “looks”, on the other hand, are simple, elegant, worldly. Few colors; few, well organized boxes.

(3) A TV show site: PBS’s Nova . Again, cool, simple, elegant, unpretentious. Great “science-y” feel.

(4) A museum site: Metropolitan Museum . Yes, it’s a museum, but with a worldwide focus and a huge amount of information on the site. Extremely well designed, simple, with few colors per page, few fonts.

(5) An educational and research foundation: The Brookings Institution . The site is a little busy, but relatively clear and direct.

In general, I think the CFI should be thinking of The New Yorker for the internet, or Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment for a new age. Branding is largely visual and it needs to get across the feel of being reliable, scientific, classic, direct, transparent.

As it stands, the CFI’s look clashes with its mission.

The mission is: transparency, simplicity, reliability, directness, elegance.

The look says: hokey, unreliable, all-over-the-place, busy, obscure, childish.

Anyone have any disagreements, agreements, discussions on this issue?

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Posted: 06 June 2006 12:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I could not agree more. Of course, I was the nitpicking person who brought up the whole FI design problems, so I could be just hung up on style. 

Doug, you provided some great examples of sites with professional, pleasing layouts and color schemes.

The CFI site appears to almost go out its way to offend the eye - way too many fonts, bad fonts, too many colors, un-related colors, too many graphics, bad graphics (stock photos run through a negative photoshop filter in the header, for example).

Again, I know what CFI is, think it’s wonderful, but I *still* get creeped out when I go there.  As unfortunate as it is, to reach people who may not know what CFI is, the site will have to be less offensive and creepy. Books are judged by covers.

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Posted: 06 June 2006 01:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Oh, and transnational appears to be a bad choice.  Is it to purposely confuse people? International seems to be what they meant to say.

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Posted: 06 June 2006 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Hello Tom_g,

Yes, I hate to say it (really, I do) but “creepy” and “creeped out” are pretty accurate ... The look they have achieved is, indeed, a bit creepy. The visual cues make one feel strangely uneasy.

It is odd—like the CFI has taken aboard some of the visual cues of the cults they investigate. They should be extremely careful not to do that.

I am guessing they chose “transnational” to put across the idea that the CFI transcends nations and ideas of nationality or nationalism. I get that on an intellectual level. But on a gut level it doesn’t work at all. Conventionally, the word “international” has that feel of togetherness and unity.

:?

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Posted: 06 June 2006 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Hi Doug - Tom_g,
I have to run to show a group of humanist friends The Root of All Evil. but I have lots to discuss on this topic. What a great topic! Thanks for thinking of it.
I’ll be back for sure later.
Jim

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Posted: 06 June 2006 03:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: CSH?

[quote author=“drkoepsell”]I am interested in feedback on the CSH site: http://www.secularhumanism.org

We are in the process of doing some changes there.

thanks!
David

Hi David, and thanks for taking the time to ask.

Personally, the CSH site seems pretty good to me. It’s basically clean and uncluttered. At present there are two boxes front-and-center, one for the CFI Summer Session, and the other for Camp Inquiry, on the page. I always have my concerns about boxes, but so long as those don’t proliferate, it’s not bad.

You might want to consider some background color, or two or three related shades; say for the top, left side and center. White alone is stark. But this would have to be subtle and unobtrusive.

I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

Best,

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Posted: 26 July 2006 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Magazine and Website designs

Hi all
It’s interesting to see the frank opinions offered about the magazine and website designs. It never occurred to me that anyone would consider changing the look of the publications. SI is usually at least cute—it’s not hard to get creative with the topics covered in that publication.
Scientific American, for example, can be a little grim, with illustrations of quarks and strands of DNA—the straight science doesn’t lend itself to the playfulness of SI’s topics.
The June/July issue of FI looks very inviting. The warmth of the picture of PK, the use of the blue sky through the skylight, and the lemon yellow text of the headlines lightens up the whole magazine. There is no reason to think that skeptics don’t like bright colors and pretty pictures.  :D
The Sects & Violence cover on the current issue made me laugh out loud LOL , even if the topic itself is heartbreaking.
I happen to like the red, white and blue CFI symbol, with the flame representing science as a candle in the dark; and I like the version of it on the CFI Forums that is on this page.
Sometimes the way to appreciate how a particular graphic style came to be is to look at what preceded it. The narrow-necktie Free Inquiry “look” may have been an improvement over what it had been before.
Wendy Hughes
Volunteer
Center for Inquiry West

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Posted: 26 July 2006 02:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well, I think individual issues or covers may be better or worse ... but when I show the CFI website or copies of SI or FI to friends or aquaintances, the one response I get, virtually without fail, is that the design is a huge turnoff. (Less with SI).

And these are not ‘mild’ reactions. They are basically: “YUCK!”

This is arguably CFI’s biggest single problem and mistake. They are not going to be taken seriously by a large number of potential allies until they get the design problems fixed.

We have to face the fact that the topics and opinions CFI presents are basically ‘fringe’. For a fringe publication or website to look unprofessional is a real killer.

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Posted: 27 July 2006 03:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I agree with everything Doug says in the introduction to this subject but going beyond that branding should almost be way of life. The brand must burn itself into the consciousness of the organization. Connections should be established linking each element to the other.

The elements are the organization’s workers, the organizations websites, and the organizations publications. In the old days the websites weren’t available. Then branding was a long difficult to carry out affair that used printed materials, mail, audio and video (TV) to carry the message. The Internet arrived so now the ability to tie everything together through the web makes the life of a publicist so much simpler.

CFI flat doesn’t get that aspect of the deal It seems to think that the websites are the brand when in fact it’s the other way around. The Websites provide the means to prove the connection between or among all of the various pieces that make up the organization (BRAND).

There should be links to every part of the organization from each of the many websites that represent each part. The websites need not look alike, that is a mistake, they should look like a website ought to look for that piece of the group. (The CSH website might lead with “Free Inquiry” while “Travel to the Galapagos” carries a different message) Each should have a recognizable logo that is uniform throughout the whole. The logo needs to be thought through carefully. Its design should either mean nothing at all (Salems) or have a relationship to the organization that is either obvious (CFI logo) or explainable if anyone asks. (US flag)

That is an over simplification but the basic rules are there. The Center for Inquiry is just terrible as a central theme. A theme ought to be something that touches the hearts and minds of the multitudes unless the multitudes aren’t the object of CFI’s interest. If they are the theme has to be reconsidered.

That aside we can go back to the organization and examine it to see how well it meets these few rules about branding.

Design each website to carry the message of the particular piece of the organization involved,

Link them all together via a home page

Link the publications websites to each other, provide an email link to letters to the editor on each publication’s website and on the main home page link to each of the publications. Inside the publication at the Letters to the Editor Section provide the email address of the editor.

Decide which parts of the organization are central to the purpose of the organization. Make them the central theme of the home page.

I could go on but a good brand it is of immense significance to the survival of the whole
I would employ a well respected public relations firm and give that group of persons their head in preparing a proposal for the redesign of the entire CFI image.

And if it were me I’d put Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer on the web in searchable databases.

Jim

BTW I go to the trouble to make the type the larger size to make it easy to read, is it easier than this? (after Tom’s reply I fixed the original FYI)
J

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Posted: 27 July 2006 03:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“jimmiekeyes”]
BTW I go to the trouble to make the type the larger size to make it easy to read, is it easier than this?
J

Jimmie, to be honest - and I’m being completely honest - I usually skip over your posts because of your large, blue, non-standard text. The few times (this time included) that I have read your post, I’ve had to decrease my text size in Firefox significantly.
-tom

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Posted: 27 July 2006 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Thanks Tom
I will act accordingly in the future, Old eyes like mine are not the standard I an striving for.
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
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http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
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Posted: 27 July 2006 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Agreed, Jim, it’s not a big deal for me but actually I find it easier just to read the standard black-on-gray text.

Back to the subject at hand: my best friend from university days is now a professor of computer science who works on AI and is VERY interested in rationality. I recently had an email conversation with him where I raised the work of CFI and directed him to its website for more information.

Here is his email response to me, referencing the work of CFI:

“Sounds like a worthy goal.  I visited their web page briefly and I was bit overwhelmed by it.  I guess they can’t afford a graphic designer just yet.  wink

Sorry to say, but the joke’s on us. Professional people like my friend are very busy, and it is all too easy to turn someone like that off. They think, reasonably, if the organization either doesn’t have the knowhow or funding to present their ideas in a pleasing, easily digestible manner, perhaps it’s better to wait on the sidelines.

Again, this is a very serious issue, IMO.

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