Annual Report as a website

December 2, 2009

Until now, Young Adult Cancer Canada has published our annual report as a paper document. We’ve put it on the web, sure, but as a PDF. And, PDFs are great: they allow you to embed fonts, and get the exact layout and context in a digital way but, they aren’t great on the web. They’re slow, and they take some patience.

Given that we’ve got a national focus, and a desire to spend less on trees (and more on programs for our awesome young adults), we figured it sounded like a grand idea to do an annual report website instead of the tabloid printed paper version this year.

Inspired by blogs like Jason Santa Maria’s excellent blog wherin he does true graphic design for each blog post, I figured we could do something similarly striking on the web.

And the reaction has been great. We’ve had a huge response (average time on site is  nine minutes 48 seconds for visitors to the AR in November, and page view counts that are through the roof), but we faced some challenges on the technical side along the way.

First off: I think I let myself think too much in the paradigm of print. I built a website that imitates print in many ways, complete with discrete pages. That metaphor works, but, it’s not quite webby enough.

Secondly: I really underestimated the difficulties of Internet Explorer 6/7 positioning issues. The report looks pretty good on my mac in the latest version of FireFox, but pull it up in Internet Explorer 6, and it’s nowhere near as smooth. Elements misaligned and misplaced.

Thirdly: I didn’t take the time to design a proper grid. And as a result, I think the pages suffer for it. There isn’t that underlying comforting Swiss precision that seems to match so well with the web as a medium.

Fourthly: I committed a cardinal sin by using frames. They really shouldn’t be ever used. At the start, they seemed like a neat way to quickly throw together the concept I had in mind, but, this would work so much better with some AJAX to pull the content from page to page.

But, on the whole, I think we’ve made a big step forward in making our Annual Report more accessible and more comprehensive. And that, is what really matters.

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