Mandarin = Zhongwen

Introduction

Zhongwen Red is a website that offers free Online Mandarin Chinese Lessons. The whole site looks plain but the content might look interesting for people who want to learn mandarin and want to learn it for free.

Form & Function

The layout is pretty straight forward with all the navigation links on the left. Each menu consists of several chapters. Clicking on each left menu brings you to a page containing the actual chapters. There is not much of design and the content looks pretty dry. But having said that, the author makes some effort to highlight certain paragraphs and tried to explain certain chinese characters (see fig 1). There are even mp3 for the conversation!! Thumbs up for that.

The header image looks ugly and I also don’t like the heavy footer. I think the author should organise the site abit better, all the resource links should be under one section and not on the footer.

As I navigated further down the chapters, the extra explaination becomes lesser (too much work?). I really hope the author can put in more graphics and make it more interactive. This can make the learning process more interesting. If I am someone really new to the language, I want to start from scratch, possibly one word at a time, maybe something like counting 1 to 10? I also want to know how to pronounce the words. The pronunciation (pinyin?) below the chinese characters is not helping much (have a crash course on pinyin in the first chapter?).

I also like to learn more about the culture – so some information in that area will be cool. Out of curiosity, I followed 2 more links, ie “zhongwen green” and “zhongwen blue” in the footer. These sites were similar to zhongwen red and I wondered why the “red”, “blue” and “green”?

Conclusion

I believe the website is targeted at beginners. If I am new to mandarin, I need more explaination and help along the way. If the author can provide a bit more foundation to the language, like explaining the characters, culture and pronunciation would be cool. Oh, and please add in more visuals so that the user don’t fall to sleep. Overall, I think there are still alot of room for improvement.

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fig 1. Extra help on the chinese characters

Fit Brains

Introduction

Brain exercise is a novel idea and Fit Brains by Vivity Labs, Inc. offers “Guilt Free Fun”, with some free brain games and “brain training” for people of all ages. You can get full access to the site upon the payment of a membership fee.

Form

The Fit Brains website has a modern design look – friendly, colourful and casual. There’s no corporate atmosphere here – which is what makes it an appealing site to visit. Although using lots of rounded corners and a trendy green, orange and blue colour combination is replicated by many sites across the web today, it is still rather effective as an advertising tool and certainly appeals to a broader audience.

The home page is well organised and text is separated in such a way as to keep the reader interested (small sections of text, good font size etc). The site uses a three column layout but with headers spanning two columns it appears as a two column layout.

The most attractive parts of the design include the special attention given to interesting looking banners, icons and thumbnails. Excellent illustration is very appealing to people who are tired of the “corporate” look.

The Fit Brains logo is a nice colour and matches the website. Appropriately, it attracts the eye as secondary information while the home banner grabs the eye first. It’s a nice logo but I feel on a business card it might be a bit awkward on it’s own. The logo image is a bit vague (if the logo was aiming to reflect the company purpose pictorially, it needs more work as the image doesn’t really communicate the message). I believe that this is a logo that needs the vivid illustration near it to survive but again, for the intention of getting the company’s name across on the website it is suitable enough.

Function

Fit Brains has a blog-style layout which has been designed well in CSS and javascript, possibly with another third party software (although I couldn’t see one in the code). It loads reasonably fast with clean code and should attract a fair audience. All the links work and I couldn’t pick any errors on a brief tour.

The games seem to be Flash or similar and have great sound effects. I think that Vivity Labs have done a rather good job with their website and it’s certainly a good advertising vehicle, along with the interesting idea.

Conclusion

Overall, Fit Brains is a pleasant website to look at, fast loading and with an interesting product behind it. The design of the elements in Fit Brains are the way of the future with an escapist appeal that make people feel cheerful to wander around the site. I feel that the logo image could use some more thought but it is not detracting from the website itself. Well done to Vivity Labs – we should all aspire to know our audience as well as they do!


sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. The Fit Brains logo

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fig 2. An example of appealing illustration

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fig 3. One of the free games

Lucky Bones

Introduction

Luckydogbones.com is a website selling different types of dog bones online. The look and feel of the website reminds me of internet 10 years ago when everyone is still using cgi and clip art.

The website was developed in early 2006 and I would expect it have a fresher look. In my opinion, salve the design, prescription layout and colors could be improved alot. I spend about 20 mins browsing the site and must admit that though my impression of the website was quite negative, the website itself was quite functional. If someone is looking to buy dog bones online, they should not be lost in luckydogbones.com.

Form

The navigation menus are on the left and right of all the web pages with each menu item represented by a clip art. I usually find grouping all the menu items in one place more effective. The repeated dog in the background is distracting and I would strongly advise the author to take it out completely. I would also suggest the author to use more professional graphics. The current quality of the gifs looks abit doggy in my firefox browser.

I am not comfortable with using strong red and blue in designing web pages. Strong red especially, is a big “No No” unless you are highlighting certain important text. Using strong blue text with big font size looks unprofessional as well. Furthermore, the dark blue text does not provide enough contrast with the light blue text link. The author might want to consider using lighter or some mixture of warm colors.

Function

In general, I think the content is well covered. Some pages are pretty long, so breaking them up into sections using images is a good idea. For example in image 1, the author might insert an image between the paragraphs to break the monotony of the text. Using quality pictures of dogs eating bones might be a good idea. Consistent in font sizes and alignment in web page design is important. Some fonts are really too small (See image 2).

The images in the shopping cart are all in different sizes. The author should really be more consistent in the item display to avoid confusion. I feel that the author can also display abit more information for each item, for example adding the pricing and a short informational description. Unlike the design of the website, I actually think that the shopping cart is quite good and functional.

Conclusion

The website as a whole is quite functional with good content. However, alot of extra work is needed in its design and usability. By making the website look more professional, the author can give his customers greater confidence when they purchase dog bones from him online.

www.luckydogbones.com.1

www.luckydogbones.com.2

www.luckydogbones.com.3

T-Shirt Design

When designing a t-shirt for a small organization, troche it becomes important to build your design in a manner that gives the organization a personal touch. I have done many t-shirt designs, most of them for the mass public. This one was special in the fact that only thirty t-shirts were being made.

This design idea is based on a t-shirt for a high school yearbook staff. The staff wanted a t-shirt that would allow their yearbook logo displayed and give everyone the ability to sign the t-shirt before it went to print. Due to budgetary constraints, the number of colors had to be limited to make the printing process cheaper. To get some ideas, I asked for some proofs of their pages along with the book cover so I could try to make the t-shirt design match the yearbook design.

I first began with their logo, which was a 3D metallic logo that was to be used on their cover. I scanned this logo and converted it to black and red, which were their school colors. This was done primarily so it would show up on the t-shirt better and the colors were chosen to help the logo stand out on the white t-shirts. Had they chosen dark t-shirts, I would have replaced the black with white and kept the red to keep the primary school color in place.

Around this round logo, I added the text “Mustang Yearbook Staff 2004” to signify who the t-shirts represented. The final logo looked like this:

Since the staff wanted an area for everyone to write their messages and sign their names, I then had to think of a creative way to organize this. I noticed in their page proofs that they repeated the logo on the top left of their pages for autograph pages. I replicated this by creating a book design on the back and taking the created logo and putting on the top left of one of the pages. This gave an area for the entire staff to sign their names and it resembled the autograph pages of their yearbook.

I printed the back off and took it to the high school for everyone to sign their names with a red sharpie. I did this so I could scan their signatures, put them back into photoshop and change the colors on the signatures to match the red I was using and save on printing costs. In the end, they got a t-shirt personalized for their group, with the ability for each member to show some individuality, which matched their work, and to (hopefully) give them great memories for years to come.

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Chicago Coast Volleyball

Introduction

Are you a fan of volleyball? Have you heard of Chicago Coast? chicagocoast.com is the official website of the Chicago Coast Volleyball Club Team. I thought the site is above average considering the fact that it is quite unknown to everyone. Many clubs don’t even have a proper website!

Form

The design looks straight forward. The blue menus and the yellow logo contrasted really well. What caught me though was the spotlight player on the left menu. His image was definitely misaligned. The title for all the pages is abit distracting as mouseover shows a change of color but doesn’t do anything; Most people would expect a hyperlink if there are mouseover effects.

Function

The section I like best is the “highlight” section (see fig 1). The video is clear and I believe this is a good attempt by the author to make the site more interesting. The other sections are OK and to be honest, they look abit boring. Some links on the left menu doesn’t work as well.

I also noticed that the top menu and footer have exactly the same links. That makes the footer redundant (see fig 2). How about a sitemap?

Conclusion

chicagocoast.com looks like a typical fan/club website that was built using dreamweaver. I like to give a plus point to the video section though. Perhaps it is the intention of the author to keep the site simple and clean. What might help though is to add more graphics. For example, instead of having one big image, use a few small ones. Make the site look abit busier! It looks dead quiet at the moment.

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fig 1. Video highlights

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fig 2. Footer same as header

Our website has a new look!

Hi all, ed

A big thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years. We have finally decided to upgrade our website. We have completed the tedious job of shifting all the content from the old site to wordpress – a very big job – phew!

We are still in the process of upgrading the look and feel. Please let us know if you encounter any problems.

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