More like a building than a book


Web sites for public organisations should be more like buildings than books.

Yesterday I went to visit a friend in Wellington Hospital. It's being torn down and rebuilt, but business carries on as usual. I expected to get confused and lost.

Big signs pointed to reception, a small lobby in a one-storey block in the heart of the building site. Now what?

A nice young man in an official vest approached me.

"Can I help?" his manner said. I don't think he even uttered the words.

"I need to find Ward 17," said I.

"That's in the Grace Neill block," said NYM, and led me to the building, the lobby, the lift, the board that said Ward 17 was on Floor M.


He did not say Welcome to Wellington Hospital. He did not spout a random range of services offered. He did not urge me to come and live in wonderful Wellington. He did not tell me how many hospitals were run by the Capital and Coast District Health Board. He did not tell me to how put one foot in front of the other or press the elevator button. Just like a good search engine, he took me straight to the ward I needed.

When you walk into your local city council building, you already know, more or less, what the city council does. You walk in for one specific reason: maybe to report a leaky drain, get a dog licence, attend a council meeting or ask about rubbish collection days in a certain suburb. You don't want to be overwhelmed with irrelevant information. You might want a form, you do want clear signs and maps, but you don't want a speech and you don't want an essay.

And if you walk into the wrong building, you don't want a wordy, second hand paraphrase of official information. You want someone to tell you the address of the correct building, where you can get information from the horse's mouth.

Old-style local government sites want to tell us every conceivable fact about our cities, whether we like it or not. New-style sites have figured it out. They imply, "Can I help?" and take us straight to the service we want.
Image: from


May 22, 2008 • Posted by rachel

Perfect. Look no further. In fact, our CONTENTED courses feature a mock-up “NOGOGGLE” parody with home page content which might amuse you. Take a sneak peek:

May 22, 2008 • Posted by Mike Riversdale

Ha ha ha ha – perfect!

May 21, 2008 • Posted by Mike Brown

“New-style sites have figured it out.” – Got any good examples of new-style sites?

May 21, 2008 • Posted by rachel

You called my bluff! I’m still looking for them. “New-style” was certainly the wrong epithet: sites that minimise guff can look modern or look antique.

May 21, 2008 • Posted by Mike Riversdale

How about Google? “new style” not necessarily “new” – I remember Alta Vista had screeds of “Welcome to our blah blah blah …” and then, famously, Google came along with, “Tell us, we’ll go look for it” approach

May 20, 2008 • Posted by Mike Riversdale

Fantastic posting Rachel with a cracking example of how (many) websites get in the way and make their own info “not useful” – the tough part of being “available, findable and useful”.

I can see me using this example to explain how websites ‘should be’ for many years to come :-)

Thanks again

May 21, 2008 • Posted by The Content Coach

Rachel, you hit it on the head. Give your visitors what they want and need without them having to search for it. One thing in particular that sticks out for me, when we talk about extra language getting in the way, are the sites that have “welcome” in their banners but still find it necessary to include that paragraph of text.

May 21, 2008 • Posted by rachel

Love your comments, and they trigger more building analogies in my mind. In fact I’m beating analogies away with a big stick for now…

May 20, 2008 • Posted by * Does your website have too much ‘guff’?, in TiKouka

[…] Read more at Contented: More like a building than a book. […]

May 20, 2008 • Posted by matthew Kerr

I think you make a very valid point, but if a website were built like Wellington hospital apparently is, would you need a guide? surely the site/building is best designed so that you don’t need the human guide, but the structure makes what you need obvious, and what you don’t less so.

I agree that websites should be more like buildings, but isn’t needing a guide a sign of an unclear layout?

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