graphicpush

Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

KC Chiefs' Tragic Online Fumble

The Happy Cog-designed site for the Kansas City Chiefs is gone, replaced by a cesspool of table soup. In what might be one of the worst redesigns in history, VML ignores any concept of standards or accessibility in favor of a table-layout/Flash/RealPlayer trifecta of crap. Welcome to 1997.

I love the Chiefs — I love the players, the stadium, the new coach, the atmosphere and the BBQ tailgating. I do not, however, love their website.

A few years ago, their online presence was mired in table soup. It was a monument of gratuitous, inaccessible and slow-loading shit that was late 1990’s development. Along came Zeldman and the Happy Cog gang, and in September 2004, the site was designed with everything you’d expect: CSS, standards, an RSS feed. (At the time, I hoped the high-profile redesign would push other sports teams toward standards, but alas, the web remains littered with development relics.)

Now, it seems, the Chiefs’ mouth-breathing marketing department has decided to return their website to the swamp and devolve the HTML into a single-celled heap of nested tables. Gone is the Happy Cog legacy; returned has the dark side of the force.

So who is responsible for this piece of shit? Why, none other than local interactive design hacks VML, most known for polluting the web with “viral” “Flash” “marketing” for Sears, Burger King and other Adbusters targets. I have no idea how these people got awarded the contract, but I’m sure some of the more dubious dealings involved season tickets to certain agency partners.

Enough of the cheap shots. Let’s take a look at some of the new website’s highlights:

  • There’s no DOCTYPE. The geniuses at VML must think their work is so awesome browsers should just know how to display it.
  • Of what the W3C validator can parse, there are 13 errors and 109 warnings. Nice.
  • There are 101 image tags. Four have semantic alt attributes.
  • Tables are nested up to six deep. Bet that was fun to code.
  • The homepage weighs in at a crushingly efficient 302 kb. The HTML by itself is 49 kb. (Happy Cog’s version was 114 kb; the HTML was 23 kb.) The dropdown menu alone is over 29 kb.
  • The homepage uses RealPlayer for the video. Who uses Real anymore? When you don’t have Real installed (does anybody?), you get a big image that says “you can’t view Chiefs TV.” Thanks, jackholes. (For added fun, when you roll over the Javascript dropdowns, the video stops working. Yay!)
  • All of the content is driven from Flash. There is not a single line of meaningful HTML in the entire document except a few links in the footer. I mean, that kind of code-to-content ratio should win some kind of award, right?

So not only is the site a throwback to development circa 1997, but they’ve made it completely inaccessible. It’s a good thing that only people with proper vision, fast connections, the correct plug-ins and good motor skills actually care about professional football. We wouldn’t want them there disabled types to read the site, now would we?

The new Chiefs website might be the single worst website I have seen in a long, long time. If it was possible to do everything wrong, VML accomplished it, and on top of their abysmal technical execution, the design sucks. (Nice red/black gradients. Seriously. Masterful use of Photoshop.) It’s a complete 180-degree reversal, a bad trip down prehistoric development lane, ten steps backward in web technology.

Standards-conscious developers, print this out, hang it on your dartboards, and use it as a case study for everything wrong with your lazy, ignorant and incompetent competition.

(Additional reporting, research and bitching by Shane.)

, , ,

commentary + criticism

Jon-Michael

wrote the following on Wednesday June 28, 2006

Ouch! VML seems to have a standards-compliant site (excluding semantic names), but I guess that’s risky design for clients :P.

I do like how the whole page blows up if you disable styles!

anon

wrote the following on Wednesday June 28, 2006

OMG,
This site SUCKS! in so many ways. I can’t believe anyone actually let this piece of crap squeeze out of their design cheeks. I cannot say enough bad things about this site. Man, there was a time I’d considered VML talented, but obviously, the luster has worn off. ICK ICK ICK!

Naomi

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Oh, that is nasty. Too bad! For every step we take forward, there is always someone taking two steps back, isn’t there?

Cameron

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Don’t websites these days have to be built with accessibility in mind? Isn’t there a government thing where you can get a slap on the wrist if someone complains about the lack of accessibility?

Kevin

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Cameron — I believe it’s a law in the UK, and a law in the US for government sites. A professional sports team walks a fine line since they’re funded by both the city and the citizens, but I would have hoped that VML show some responsibility and do things the right way. Alas, it is crap.

Shane

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Great article, Kevin. What I can’t figure out is why they felt they needed to update? The Zeldman design was perfectly servicable. I suppose this is just one more example of how the front office of the Chiefs have their heads completely up their asses.

Cliff

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Thanks so much for spreading the word about this redesign. It really is discouraging to see an organization take a step back with their site and go this direction. What was the reasoning? Did the marketing department just think that it didn’t have a ‘wow’ factor because that other football team’s website has music, etc.? Did the site visitors complain? Are they really going to now? I guess the biggest fear I can picture now is that it appears in Print and/or Communication Arts Interactive Annual.

Josh Byers

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Hmmm, can a website predict a teams upcoming season? Let’s hope so. Go Broncos!!! Oh wait, their website sucks too…hmmm

Territan

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Darn. We really need some sort of, I dunno… hall of shame for these sorts of failed redesigns? At least the KC Chiefs are in good company, down there with the UK Disney Store…

John Swaringen

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

While I can’t figure out why in the world VML would do this, I do understand why the Chiefs marketing staff had to muck things up. After all, when the coaching staff and managment can’t get their team past the first round in the playoffs you’ve got to do Something right? (that’s a joke…)

Seriously, I worked on the Dallas Cowboys website a while back. Marketing in the NFL is all about “buzzwords”.

Dan Boland

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Why are marketing departments so completely inept so often when it comes to the web? I mean, who on earth would think that the new design is better?

Shane

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

Quote: Marketing in the NFL is all about ‘buzzwords’.

That’s not the only place it’s all about buzzwords. Corporate America is just as liable as the NFL.

Ed

wrote the following on Thursday June 29, 2006

That is mind-blowingly disasterous. Not to mention expensive, since the home page is nearly 3 times the filesize to serve up and the content must be harder to update with all the Flash badness.

After ESPN.com made the celebrated move to a standards-compliant home page several years ago, realizing tremendous bandwidth savings, I figured that other sports websites would follow suit. Or at least not screw up by reverting back to bloated 1997 table hacks. Guess not.

Kevin

wrote the following on Friday June 30, 2006

Haha! Look at the message I got back. They must be getting a lot of e-mails to start getting this rude (or they’re just plain assholes — notice how he actually takes the time to visit my website and tries to flame with with my own words)

Dear Kevin:

I would find your comments more “genuine” if you had your facts
straight. We’ve used nothing but Real Player for five years. My guess
is you RARELY viewed kcchiefs.com.

Do you even know Jeffrey Zeldman? I do, and we’re good friends. I’m
sure he would find your comments quite humorous. Did you ask him why
he is no longer designing the site? I appreciate you trying to stick
up for him but reading comments on a “web standards” forum and then
popping off is a little much don’t you think?

“I’ve pretty much given up on learning sound design for the time
being as I have neither the time nor the energy to teach myself
something completely new after working all day. ”

I think you summed it up pretty well.

Good luck with your job search.

Best,

Lance

>Name: Kevin
>Email: info@kevinsweeneydesign.com
>Subject: I want to report an error on www.kcchiefs.com.
>
>You’re website is horribly inaccessible and terribly coded. I can’t view
>the Chiefs TV because I don’t use RealPlayer anymore. Why don’t you use
>Flash Video? Or web standards? Happy Cog did such a wonderful job and it’s
>a shame to see your new web designers at VML botch the job.

meashman

wrote the following on Sunday July 2, 2006

The new site really is a catastrophe. I don’t understand why they didn’t stick with the nice site that they had.

Lance definitely seems a bit defenisive, ahem guility. Does anyone know what Zeldman’s take is on all this?

squillo

wrote the following on Monday July 3, 2006

This blog is a goldmine of ideas and best practices, but on this article I have to dissent a little. Web developers should exercise caution when criticizing the work of others since they are really not in a position to know what the parameters and limitations were for someone else’s project. Perhaps the budget was small, or the client’s representative for the project was impossible to work with, etc., etc. While Zeldman is correct to say "the user is never wrong", it is also true the developer’s first responsibility is to please the client.

While it is generally unfortunate the Chiefs are moving away from CSS, and the separation of content and presentation that implies, they may wish to simply remake their site from scratch every year and probably have the budget to do so. I would have to say if the primary demographic for the site is teenage boys on broadband, then the current design is indeed more likely to be effective than the old one.

Finally, whether a site has the proper doctype or fulfills the W3C committee’s validator is pretty meaningless for reasons that have been well discussed here and elsewhere. What matters is whether the site displays reasonably well in the browsers of their users, that’s all.

But man, the index page certainly does take a long time to load even on broadband before showing any content at all (though it is more a function of the extensive table structure than the weight per se), and I would concur RealPlayer sucks though it might make sense for legacy reasons.

Kevin

wrote the following on Monday July 3, 2006

I can not argue with the Chiefs wanting to redesign their site every year or every other year — that’s their perogative, and I would imagine they are more concerned about the “cool factor” (video, flash, dropdowns, wizzy and buzzy things) than most clients. However, I do put full blame on VML for executing this behemoth.

The design could have easily been standards-compilant, fully accessible, and display properly in every browser. They simply chose to ignore every best practice, and in fact went in the complete opposite direction — like requiring a visitor to have Javascript and Flash active to view the main content.

While it is true clients should get the features they want, we can not expect clients to even know about standards much less demand their agency use them. It is the developer’s responsibility to deliver a product that is in line with contemporary best practices.

Also, I have never criticized another site like this. I bring it up because:

  1. The Chiefs are my team. I want them to succeed on the field and on the web. I take this abomination personally.
  2. The site was standards-compliant, and this is a huge step backward.
  3. The crappiness level is so high I just had to bitch. I mean c’mon — six levels of nested tables? That’s just dumb.

Kevin

wrote the following on Monday July 3, 2006

But isn’t that the beauty of seperating content from presentation? They could redesign every month and only need to change their CSS.

In the long run, they are going to be spending more money on updates now that they’ve done away with most of the CSS, am I right?

Jeff Croft

wrote the following on Thursday July 6, 2006

“While it is generally unfortunate the Chiefs are moving away from CSS, and the separation of content and presentation that implies, they may wish to simply remake their site from scratch every year and probably have the budget to do so. I would have to say if the primary demographic for the site is teenage boys on broadband, then the current design is indeed more likely to be effective than the old one.”

Well, I’m not sure what exactly would make you think the target demographic is “teenage boys on broadband” — NFL football is our nation’s pastime and has as wide a viewing demographic as just about any type of entertainment in the word — but it doesn’t matter. You’re failing to see the point. The point is not that this concept is less effective — it may well be more effective. The point is that the execution of this concept is very, very poor.

“Finally, whether a site has the proper doctype or fulfills the W3C committee’s validator is pretty meaningless for reasons that have been well discussed here and elsewhere. What matters is whether the site displays reasonably well in the browsers of their users, that’s all.”

I agree 100%...except that it’s just as easy to, if not easier, to write stands-based code that would not only ensure the “site displays reasonably well in the browsers of their users,” but also meet basic accessibility requirements and work well on alternative browsers and devices.

It’s sort of like you tell me that you need ten dollars, and all I have is a twenty. I offer you the twenty, as you don’t take it — because you only need ten dollars. Of course you don’t need twenty dollars, but it’s just as easy for you to take a twenty as it is a ten, and you can do more with it.

Alabama KC fan

wrote the following on Monday July 24, 2006

I may not know the technical problems behind the new site, I Just know that it isn’t nearly as nice as the old. I not only think it is slower, it has less appeal.

Jason Gramke

wrote the following on Monday June 4, 2007

Kevin,

Not arguing the quality of design on the site here, but it’s difficult to wade through the toxic front end of your post to get to the real issues to support your claims. You sound like a jilted lover. Were you refused a job there?

JG

Kevin

wrote the following on Tuesday June 5, 2007

Nope. Forgive the toxicity, I just can’t believe agencies get paid to produce this stuff. It makes me angry as a professional.

Shane

wrote the following on Monday August 27, 2007

I went to the Chiefs website today to check on some news and it got me to thinking…I could get on board with this design if I felt it were a step forward, but the bottom line is that the Chiefs took their design back a decade and made it non-compliant while they were at it. It really is tragic.

My hope is that the next redesign will at least address this.

Father Time

wrote the following on Tuesday April 29, 2008

Just happened upon this site after a search on VML. I am currently a client of theirs and just about had it witht them. I wanted to see what other people were having the same problems with them as we are. Seems that this isn’t localized to just the work they do for us. Boo on you VML – get with the program.

Justin

wrote the following on Wednesday March 4, 2009

omg…thank you i was complaining all day about how ugly the chiefs site looks just the site itself sucks ass i could do a better job than that….its a piece of shit

Harold

wrote the following on Friday March 20, 2009

I was looking at my beloved Chiefs web site again today thinging, again today, this site sucks ass. And not just a little, a lot. So I of course think that I can’t be the only one who thinks the Cheifs website suck…and thus I found this wonder site that explains in terms far over my head why it blows and sucks as hard as it does.

Don’t even try to view it on a Crackberry.

I mean, with all the money spent on renovations to the stadium, how about renovating something the fans can see every day of the year?

The real day-to-day connection for most fans who live remote (Tampa, FL since ’94) is the Website. How much could it cost to update their image on the internet? $20K? $50K? $100K Peanuts to them.

C’mon Chiefs, give me something interesting to look at while I sit here not working at work.

Tonay Victor

wrote the following on Sunday April 11, 2010

I just ran across this blog – I recently got hired in the VML creative department. . this stuff happends all the time. This place is messed up, and that is usual for a digital marketing agency. . but VML is really messed up. I think the turnover rate here is about 17%. Run.