Horn toot

Not only is the design and programming on this site ancient, the whole concept is, too: Tuesday marks the Ideapad’s seventh birthday. Been a bit quiet in the main column of late, but the linklog on the right is busy as usual.

Economist.com

The Economist launched a redesigned economist.com this week. New pages are preset to 1024 width (nice for advertising, less so for the 29% of Americans still surfing at 800×600) with a colorful top- and left-nav scheme. The basic design is modern and stylish. Online exclusives, like city and country guides, have been made much more prominent.

Lots of nice touches surround the content. I particularly like the muted color offsets and the robust footer, and the integration of items like Backgrounders is much better. And, of course, I appreciate that the Economist.com logo (which I created, pat pat) is still in use.

I have quibbles, but they are few. The light font colors on the home page detract from the power of the headlines, and the white space surrounding the content seems a little arbitrary. Economist.com hasn’t gotten around to updating its section indexes, either, which suggest the site was pushing to a deadline.

On a personal note, this redesign is a little bittersweet. Economist.com was overdue for an overhaul, but the new site marks the conclusion of my work in commercial web design. While I segued out of design several years ago, Economist.com lived on, and the fact that it was live for five years—my redesign launched this week in 2000—was my proudest design achievement. Now that it’s changed, I am somewhat saddened at the realization that my old career is officially gone.

Congratulations and good luck to the Economist online staff. May the new site serve you as well as the old.

Homecoming

This past weekend I ventured to Lancaster, Pa., for the first time in nine years. Franklin & Marshall College was celebrating its annual Homecoming, and as a graduate of the Class of 1995, I joined numerous friends at our 10-year reunion.

(What follows is not a pristine op-ed so much as an opinionated summary of events at the request of several colleagues. Click Read More if you’re interested in the rest.)

This past weekend I ventured to Lancaster, Pa., for the first time in nine years. Franklin & Marshall College was celebrating its annual Homecoming, and as a graduate of the Class of 1995, I joined numerous friends at our 10-year reunion.

Superficially, the weekend was a success. Campus looked great, as it often does; I saw friends with whom I reconnected, places full of fond memories, and acquaintances who made me smile. My dorms, apartment, frat house, newspaper office, radio station: all intact, and not much worse for wear. The new buildings and pathways on campus look great, and Homecoming events were well-organized.

However.

My satisfaction was tempered significantly by the annual alumni meeting of my fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma, where the brotherhood learned about the dire straits the active membership faces—an effect that stems directly from the re-recognition of Greek life last year. Our officers made clear that should the school bar a freshman pledge class this spring, Phi Kap—a 151-year-old organization, the oldest of its kind at F&M, and the third-oldest active chapter of the fraternity—could face extinction. While the national chapter shares blame for the severity of the situation, the assumption here is that the school would cry no tears should the fraternity disappear, the alumni equivalent of rooting for a 38-year-old ballplayer whose team is patiently waiting for his contract to end.

Similarly, those who attended the Class of ’95 Reunion Dinner came away thoroughly disappointed with its execution. For $30 a head, we were brought to what used to be the dining hall and treated to a tiny and inexpensive buffet dinner: gnocchi with sausage, “cheesesteak wraps,” some soup and salad, and a do-it-yourself mashed potato bar. The beer and wine served at the bar hardly made up the cost difference. Let me also throw into the mix the fact that barely half of our class alumni council attended the dinner they organized. I should have followed their example.

By griping to a powerless audience, I am apparently preaching to the choir, too; I heard this weekend about classmates who stopped participating in alumni organizations after tiring of making suggestions that were summarily ignored. Never one to stand idly by, I post this in the hope that people react in a positive manner. I even called the alumni office to request a refund on the dinner. (At least the College Reporter, the campus newspaper, is on an upswing and run by editors who are dedicated and proud.)

As a result, I unfortunately stand by much of my statement from April, however disillusioned and acerbic the tone. F&M remains a beautiful and welcoming school, but it has flaws that endanger the lifestyle and culture that made me proud to have gone there. One would think a bad dinner wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s actually a microcosm of the past year, the generic emails and profit-first nature of the campus thrown into bold relief.

At least my trip turned out as expected. Nice trip to school? Check. Show Lancaster County to my (good sport and rather patient) wife? Check. Get a reminder of how the school is treating me as an alumnus and a Greek associate? Big, fat, ugly check. And a check, by the way, is what F&M won’t be receiving from me, since voting with my pocketbook is the most surefire way to get the school to take notice.