Silicon Glen, Scotland > Web usability > Pants websites

Valid HTML 4.01!

Why the E-commerce Scotland website is pants

Site reviewed on 6th December 2003

Scottish Enterprise spent 108m on consultants and contractors last year. Not much of this could have been testing related, judging by the following. All the more surprising since this is the company that should be leading by example for Scottish businesses on the web.

Lets begin with the formatting problems, meaning that you can't see the full details of their supplier listing page

formatting problems

And the same page in Internet Explorer. This demonstrates how much cross browser testing was done - none! Are they advocating that Scottish Companies do the same and lose 10% of customers?

formatting in IE

Next, we have the menu you can't read. Not so good for a site claiming Level A accessibility on their home page. Take a look at that left hand menu - the third item down is dark green on dark blue, an almost impossible combination to read. Further confusion ensues further down the menu with the highlight over "Tips for Searching" - the rationale for this is far from clear as I'm not on that page.

illogical menu

Next, we have the "broken server" problem. A (free) link checker which returns status codes would detect this. The error was obtained when clicking on the "Print Version" of a provider listing

500 server error

Ordinarily I would have stopped there. However, since the homepage claimed level A accessibility conformance, it seemed fair game to put that to the test too. Here's the results of a simple sumbission of the home page on the W3C validator. The main highlights on this page are the NOT VALID XHTML error and the summary of 34 errors on the home page alone

validation errors 1

A quick digression here to remind us what this part of the site is supposed to be about again, E-business certification, delivering robust projects and delivering what was promised. Here's the claims


And this is the result of testing the website against its claim for conformance. 162 warnings including some on unprintable characters. OK, so no errors, but 162 warnings! There is also a useful tip on using the summary attribute for tables which we use on this site and which helps people with understanding site content.

homepage warnings

However, a site isn't going to be much use to the disabled if they can only access one page. So I looked at one of the deeper pages. Oh dear. A fatal error, that's the most serious validation error you can get and prevents the page from being parsed! No testing here then, since it's the first line in any webpage.

fatal error

Next some simple tests on font sizes. I'm using Internet Explorer 6 here which has fairly limited font scaling and only has 5 settings available from the menu. Mozilla has far more flexibily here and can allow me to specify what scaling I want. Nonetheless font scaling is a useful feature if you have problems with your eyesight and find small fonts difficult to read.

Here's the Scottish Enterprise site with small fonts

SE Site small fonts

and here's the Scottish Enterprise site with big fonts. No difference whatsoever, except for those big black blobs that have appeared in the lists. Really useful or what?!

SE Site big fonts

By comparison, I thought I'd show you a site where this works. It may look familiar! Try it for yourself.

Nice big fonts for usability

Silicon Glen big fonts

And small fonts if you don't mind them

Silicon Glen small fonts

And the lesson here is, you can spend 108m on consultants, but only when you employ someone who knows what they are doing will you end up with a useful product.

The pants website award. Please feel free to add to this list