[thelist] design critique (long)

Madhu Menon webguru at vsnl.net
Thu Nov 8 14:15:22 CST 2001


>now's your chance... you've seen me evangalizing on this list
>forever while rarely ponying up examples (although quite a lot of
>you have looked on your own)... i've just launched our new
>corporate site, and i'm looking for some input...

Ah, finally found some time to write a detailed reply to this. I hate 
fluffy, dishonest writing so I'll just be blunt about what I like and what 
I don't. Most people have already pointed out the good part. I'm going to 
play devil's advocate :)

WARNING: This is a lonnnnnnnnng post. If you can't spare the time, move 
along. This isn't the post you're looking for ;)

Let's pretend that I'm a potential client who wanted to build a dynamic web 
site (I'm intentionally leaving this vague) and someone just told me about 
this company called Algun-fin, er, Algae-kin, damn, Algonquin Studios that 
could do it for me :P (it's a tongue twister, aard)

First visit: home page

User impressions:

1) Nice colour scheme. Subdued, but then I like grey. Wish the text wasn't 
right aligned though. :)

2) Hmmm... "Enterprise solutions experts", eh? Wonder if they can integrate 
my COBOL-based inventory management system running on OS/400 and DB2 with 
my new Win2000 and SQL-Server based setup.

OK, maybe I'm a little more ruffled by this than others, possibly because 
my last company's management had delusions of being an "enterprise 
solutions" company when they had neither the experience nor the expertise. 
It's killing them now.

I'm jumping ahead of the home page here, but as I looked over the rest of 
your site, I found no evidence of any "enterprise" solution you've done. I 
don't mean to sound like an arsehole, but you should probably change  it to 
something like "Web solutions experts". I might be wrong. I'm just telling 
you what I figured out from the site.

3) What's this funny graphic? Oh, it's a warped screenshot. Cool.

4) The copy is useful, but it jumps out at me without setting a context. 
What you need to do is have a title like "Featured case study" before your 
intro. Otherwise, I expect it to be something about your company.

5) No, I don't think I'll read the case study yet. The home page hasn't 
really told me about what kind of work they do, so let me move on to 

Designer notes:

1) I run 1024*768 on a 17" monitor. But I have a bookmarklet that lets me 
switch the site to 800*600. Could you tighten up the spacing a bit so that 
it fits completely into a 800*600 screen? Perhaps reduce the space between 
your company name and the tag line?

2) Are the IE toolbars in the screenshot required? They add an unnecessary 
"grey-ness"  to the otherwise colourful graphic. Cropping it would give you 
a bit more space for your screenshot too.

3) Screenshot is clickable. URL is non-intuitive so it needs an ALT tag to 
tell me a bit more about where I'm going. Not essential, but nice to have.

With that, we move to...


User impressions:

1) That "content management" bit in the middle looks out of place.

2) What's "Cha-ching!"? What's that doing in the services section?

3) [Wondering] Do these guys do web applications? Where can I read about 
that? Ah, there's a link called "implementation". Click on it. (I only read 
upto the code monkeys part. People *sometimes* scan on the Web :)

4) OK, now I'm really shocked. When I clicked on "implementation", I 
expected to read a bit about what kind of work you do. Do you build web 
applications using PHP on Solaris? Do you do "portals"? What technologies 
do you use? Instead I go to a case study. And the case study isn't about a 
technology solution, it's about how "Each section of the site is 'branded' 
with a different color".

(yes, I made a mistake in not reading the rest of the text that said, "and 
make the designs of others work on the web. No problem.". But it could 
happen with potential clients. It's the concept of satisficing.

So... I think you need to describe your expertise on specific platforms on 
some page. I recommend that case studies be put into a separate section to 
minimise confusion.

It's a question of the order in which I want the information. As a 
potential client, my first thought would be "what can these guys do?", "who 
are these guys?", and if I'm happy with the answers to the previous 
questions, "what work have they done before?"

(btw, ditto for all other headings. They all lead to case studies. As a 
first time visitor, this is all a bit too soon for me. I want to get to 
know your company a bit more.)

Designer notes:

1) The graphics for the headings seem to be overshadowing the text. 
Personal perception only. You need to make the text stand out a bit more. 
How about converting them into GIFs with the same typeface used in your logo?

2) Oooh, Jakob Nielsen is going to get his stick out and whack you when he 
sees the "Read more" hyperlink on the left as plain black text ;)
It's a hyperlink. Make it look like a link in some way. Different colour, 
underlined, whatever...

3) Section headings text not hyperlinked???

Anyway, let's go now to...


User impressions:

1) Oh, good. Certainly seem to be a bunch of capable and competent 
2) What are those weird graphics on the right?

Designer notes:

1) Your names are "floating" between the blocks of text. Subheads (in this 
case, your names) must be closer to the text they introduce than from the 
previous block of text. And I'd also eliminate the space between the name 
and the title.

(ASIDE) If you want to project a formal, serious, image, that's fine. If 
not, may I suggest you switch to a "first-name at domain.com" email address 
convention? It may be a subtle psychological point, but when I'm sending 
mail to "adrian at algonquinstudios.com", I'll mentally tend to be a bit more 
open than if I were emailing "roselli at algonquinstudios.com". Not 
design-related, but I thought I'd mention it.

Next section is...


User impressions:

1) Looks good. Let me read some of 'em. Nice...
2) Why are press releases in here? Shouldn't they be in a "news" section or 
something? And why do they appear above the actual "articles"?

Designer notes:

1) You need to pick a few more of your articles to display here. The extra 
HTML won't be much and it'll look like a rich repository, which is what you 
2) What's the article on the Evolt redesign doing on the first page? For a 
person removed from thelist, it doesn't mean much. I'd pick articles like 
the following:

a) Give the User Control Over Your Fonts
b) Real-World Browser Size Stats, Part I-III
c) Using Excel Spreadsheets as Web Data Sources

Varied enough to make a positive impression.

And lastly, we go to...


User impressions:

1) Wow, they certainly have a lot of clients. Must be doing good business. 
Certainly not your average mom-n-pop HTML shop.

2) Hey, which of these are web applications and which are design-heavy 

Designer notes:

1) Your icon for "off site link" is relatively clear (if not immediately, 
at least in context). Your case study icon could be changed to a stack of 
papers (something like "4" from the Wingdings font) or similar.

2) Uh oh, Jakob's baaaaack! Your links are not consistent in their 
destination. For clients for whom you have case studies, the hyperlink goes 
to the case study, while in other cases, it goes directly to the site in 
question. Not good.

Well, that was my critique. I haven't reviewed the site in much detail and 
I haven't touched the careers section, so I'm sorry. I also apologise if I 
sounded way too harsh.

Hope it was helpful.

What, you actually made it this far? I'm amazed!



<<<   *   >>>
Madhu Menon
User Experience Consultant
e-mail: webguru at vsnl.net

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