FaceFlow – A Web-Based Video Website

Upon entering the site, sales I questioned exactly what it was. The graphics and introduction text indicated that it had something to do with video, patient but did not offer enough information above the fold as to why I would want to use it since I already use a video conferencing program.

The look and feel is a clean web2.0 layout, there however, there is no navigation menu, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is being offered. The main focus area flips through three informational bits that tell you that you can use FaceFlow for video conferencing, group chat and to meet people. However, it does not state clearly enough that you do not have to download any software to use the program. This would be nice to know immediately.

Fig1: Focus Area - Needs a clearer message

The graphics in the focal area are of a decent quality, but to me, they are not clear enough to sell a user into signing up for the service. I would totally redesign this focal area, stating clearly that FaceFlow is a free web-based video conferencing service that requires no software download. I would design a single graphic that details this versus the three screens they currently rotate.

Also within the focus area, there is a link for a faceflow youtube video and the quality is good, but that still does not give enough information about what it is or why I would want to use it. The video immediately states that “FaceFlow is easy to use, sign up for free”. This is not what I expect in an introduction video. I instead expected, more details about what it is, why I should use it, how I can use it, THEN show me the sign up process.

Scrolling down the page offers some resolve to the question of what the capabilities of the program are but again does not offer enough information about what FaceFlow IS, or why I would want to use it.

The focus is obviously on getting a user to sign up for the service, but I personally do not just sign up for things that I am unsure of. It would need to be useful to me, and I just do not get that message within the main page of the site. As mentioned above, I feel that the main page content needs to be rethought out.

Fig2: "Why" is finally answered

I decided to click on the link under the instant messaging heading and was taken to a page that offered more details on the IM portion of their service. At the top of the page, I finally got what I was looking for on the front page – text that states why I would want to use FaceFlow. However, past that I was stuck… again, the lack of navigation was an issue. There was also a features link at the footer but that seems to come in a bit late.

Fig3: Navigation with SEO (not users) in mind

There is no Home button, so I usually click on a logo to go home, but it was not click-able. Scrolling to the bottom offers a navigation menu (mind you that it is different than the one offered on the home page) that did get me back to the home page, but did NOT offer me any clear idea of navigating around the site for information. The menu instead is created for SEO purposes and not for users.

I did click from link to link within the text areas of each page so I was able to view all of the pages in the site, but an average user would not think to do this. They would be confused and just leave. Also noted in my perusing the pages, the fonts used in the sign up buttons change three times, the visited link are the standard purple and do not fit within the scheme of the design, and the spacing of the footer navigation needs some attention – should be laid out as it is on the home page throughout the site.

Conclusion
I would guess that faceflow could be a good product to connect with friends using only a browser, but cannot sense that this would be a useful business tool.  However, with some attention to the details of their message mentioned in this review, FaceFlow could rebrand itself as an application that speaks to businesses as well as average users.

Wheelbase – A high quality experience

Wheelbase is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of alloy wheels and performance tires. They have been providing the public with top quality products for over 15 years.

Upon entering the site, it is evidently clear what the purpose of the site is – to sell wheels. The layout is clean and efficient, and exactly what I expect to see on a motor based site. Design looks like a shopping cart site, but again, expected. The color scheme is pleasing, and fits well with the subject. The left side of the page is well designed offering clean images with suggestions about where to begin perusing their site.

Search Options
Fig1. Search Options

My eye is immediately drawn to the “alloy wheel search” located in the center of the page, and this is where I began browsing. The three pull down menus offer several makes of automobiles, followed by their models and finally an option to view sizes of wheels and tires. This worked efficiently with no errors. I was inclined to want to click a search button, but instead was immediately directed to a page of choices suited for my chosen car. I did note that many automobiles are not listed within their makes, as the car I currently drive, a Mercury Mountaineer, was not listed.

Search Results
Fig2. Search Results

I chose a “Ford” + “F150” + “Show all sizes” for my search. The results are displayed in order by size from the smallest to the largest. The thumbnail images are spaced nicely and are of a high quality. The prices are clearly displayed below the products in GPB, which is the default method due to the company being based in the UK. They have made it simple to change the price display option with a simple click at the page top converting the standard display to either US or Euro.

I was not looking for a specific brand of wheel, but the site has taken that into consideration by offering a concise drill down including display by brand, model, color and style. This makes it very easy for users who are comparison based on knowing exactly what they are looking for. I also found it smart that the company displays a Top 5 Wheels suggestion just to the right of the search results. I feel this is a good selling tactic for someone who does not know exactly what they are looking for.

I chose the first wheel displayed in my result listing, the Decorsa 20″ Alloy. The now larger image was of a high quality and nicely spaced to the left of the text description. The enlarged image, when you hit Zoom, is very clear and offers a detailed picture of the product. From here  you can add the product to your cart, or browse their suggested pairings for tires that fit the wheel you have chosen. They also clearly promote the ability to speak to an expert which is very smart considering that the purchase wheels and tires is a large purchase that someone would want to do right. I added this item to my cart and went through the checkout process up to where the final purchase is made. There were no issues, very simple and left me with no questions about my intended purchase.

Navigation Bar
Fig3. Clearance, Competition and The Zone

With my ordering experience final, I began going through their navigation bar. They offer a Clearance section that displays products that are discounted. When clicking on one, the system they have in place remembers your previous make and model selection and notifies you if the wheel you have chosen will not fit your car. You can continue to browse through, however they do want to get you back to the selections that are matched for your car and clicking OK in the prompt takes you back to the search results page mentioned above.

Friendly competition and targeted content makes for a sticky site:

They offer a monthly competition to win a set of tires, with the winner being selected by random draw on the last day of the month after answering a single question. I find this a very good way to engage a user, and keep the site sticky. They have a gallery of cars sporting their wheels, which would give a user a decent idea of how a specific wheel would look on their car.

My husband particularly enjoyed the site’s Wheelbase Zone, which I found to be a very good way of keeping their target market, men, entertained. They offer photos and profiles beautiful ladies, several modeling with the sites product, screensavers and news from the company.

Finally in the navigation bar, I went to the Wheels Advice section which I found a valuable asset, as it offered tips and suggestions for the care and maintenance of your wheels and tires. This is also great for the site’s organic SEO as the phrases found in the page are questions that people would search for.

Conclusion:

In closing, the point of site is clearly sales, no advertisements in sight. While I am not the person that would use this site, I do rate my experience here very high. I was not misdirected within my purchase path – it was very clear and easy. I was not offered ways that led me away from the point of my visit, to browse and possibly purchase their products. I was not offended by their display or content even though the target market is clearly men. I found this site to be rememberable and a I had good enough experience that I would refer it to others who were looking for products of this type.


Sitecritic.net award

* This is not just a typical ecommerce site. A lot of effort has been put into it to make it stand out from the crowd. Wheelbase alloy wheels fully deserves an award.

Famouswhy – all things famous

famouswhy.com is a user generated content site that provides information to a very wide range of “famous” things. Whether it be celebrities, or internationally known cities, famouswhy.com makes privy almost every known Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How facit of famousness.

My first reaction on entrance to the site is that it is a bit ‘tight’, giving me the feeling of information overload. The website does well taking up page space, but not necessarily at presenting it. It is not clear exactly what the site is, how to use it, or even where to begin. I was immediately turned off by the bouncing banner at the masthead of the page, but even more so with the over abundance of advertising links within the text of the page.

One of the most important areas of a website is the navigation system, and the system laid out on this site is very unclear. The only one that I was sure of was the “People” tab, but the others were not an immediate connection, and even upon clicking each one, I had to scroll down well past the advertisements to even see what the page was about. Further, there is no “Home” button. Additionally, the “Forum” tab completely disconnects the user from the famouswhy.com branding as it has a completely different design and layout.

Through the entire site, the font size is very small and would be much more readable with some attention to leading in the text. There are also many misspellings in the site. For the main entry page, the three column layout for the top of the page, does not work as well for the subject presented as a simpler two column layout would. I would have preferred to see the “News” section taking up both the area it is located in currently, along with the area to its left where the “What is…” is found. I also do not feel it is necessary to use so much important web real estate for the “Famous People born on…”. One column would suffice for this, and a link to more – this is better represented on the “Born Today” page.

Going further down the page, it is a bit more clear what information that you can acquire here on “Famous Celebrities”. However, same as above, it is a bit cluttered, and there is a little too much information leaving the user overwhelmed on where he/she should begin clicking.

3 ads - prime placement

Fig 1. The four ads get prime placement over content

As mentioned above, navigating through the menu, and choosing “People” lands me on pages that offer first 3 huge advertisements (Fig 1.), along with the mast head banner, leaving me to have to scroll down the page to find out exactly what the page is about. While this may be a great way for them to sell their product, which is what I found the site attempting to most often do, it is not the best way to capture users. Ad’s are necessary but intricate planning and placement so as to do its job, but not be in the users face.

In “Regions” (Fig 2.) , it does offer a clear indication above the fold that this page is about “Famous Regions, Cities, Countries and Places of the World”. And when choosing a Region, the information is offered where it is expected to be, before an advertisement, though they are there, both in blocks and strewn throughout the text. The content is pretty standard, giving facts and details about the area. I would have liked to seen more photos, and maybe some conversations/reviews from users about the chosen region.

Regions

Fig 2. Regions Main Page

The “Articles” and “Software” sections did not really make much sense to me within the subject of this site. I understand that there are obviously very famous Articles, but I did not see anything like that here. As well, the Software section did not offer famous software, but rather just a collection of no-name software and even more ads. In saying that, they do have a separate section selling the famous questions software – not sure if that is the software that drives their site.

famouswhy.com creators definitely need to work on organization in each main category. In Famous People, it might be beneficial to introduce their People Categories (including artists, writers, presidents, etc.) at the top of the page, rather than in the haze of random people and advertisements. Considering the TMZ style of celebrity gossip, the moderators might do well to lay out all major categories of fame (i.e Persons, Places, and Things), and then add sub-categories where fit.

Conclusion

shockstats

Fig 3. Shockstats – or lack there of

In closing, it is clear that the creators are trying to cover a vast variety of so-called “famous” things, but seem to weigh more importance on their advertising, and the pushing of their CMS over content. It is evident (Fig 3.) that there is little to no user ship here, with the lack of any reviews, likes, tweets or the like. This is the case in the entire site, with the only small exception being the forum where there are a handful of users that continually post and comment on each others posts.

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Everyone loves a good gripe…

Introduction

The Weekly Gripe website offers a platform for discussion about problems, complaints and ‘gripes’. It offers that place to just ‘publicly’ get it off your chest, without having to stand up and do it.

Form and Function

Upon landing on the main page of The Weekly Gripe, it reminded me of a newspaper since the first place my eye was drawn was to the logo. While I do not feel that the logo relays the idea behind the purpose of the site, I WAS drawn to it and was not turned off. It is just ok for me.

My eye passed the logo and went immediately to the navigation. That is good (tell me where I am, and show me the way to go) – I give high marks for clear navigation – ‘my gripe’ would be that Sitemap and Home should be at the end of the list, moving Your Gripe and Browse to the first two slots. For usability it makes more sense to get users right into either posting or looking.

The h1 tag used as the lead in, styled as it is, should either have the underline removed or be linked to the ‘your gripe’ page, since underlines to most users means links, and especially set at that size. I personally would link it, as it just adds another entrance to the purpose – to post a gripe.

The layout of the site I found very usable, easy and effortless. Good job to the designer in that. However, I am a real stickler for web standards, and this one is not compliant. I was actually disapointed to see that.

Aesthetically, I am not fond of the comment graphics – too much shadow for my liking, and I dislike the comment submission button. It does not match the style of the rest of the site (bevel and font).

Conclusion

This site has a great deal of potential if restructured a bit, especially since my PR checker says Google is it’s friend. That should be really looked at… I consider a switch to standards, add in some of the social-networking tools available to give it more “passibility”.

www.weeklygripe.co.uk.1

www.weeklygripe.co.uk.2

Usability Matters: online shopping sites

Introduction

Butterfly & Nature Gift store is an online store where you can purchase custom made framed butterfly displays and other nature related products such as shirts, cheap insect crafts and games, decease and sea monkeys.

Form and Function

My rating for this one is a 3.5. I like the products she sells here, sick which does keep me on the site, however, This site needs some color, and rethinking of its structure.

Online stores, from an information architecture standpoint, are very complex, and require a great deal of planning. When making an online purchase, it is important that the site I am buying from appear professional and trustworthy, and unfortunately this site misses that mark for me.

The layout of the front page is not too bad for me – it gets right to the point, and you know that this is an online store selling butterfly “something” immediately. I would like to see the text to introduce the site moved above the product area, giving an introduction to what can be found here, with links to internal pages. This would do well for SEO as well.

The product boxes on the front are a bit too tight and give it a cluttered feel. They also lack style. The inner product photos however are great. A perfect size, and excellent quality. The product boxes loose this layout completely when going to the internal pages, which I think is a bad idea.

The footer throughout the site remains centered and fixed, which does coincide with the content area of the inner pages, but does match the front page. I feel this area needs some definition, either a separator bar, or a block of color, so as to “enclose” the focal area above it.

There are also a few different font families in use on different pages of the site.

Conclusion

There are a great deal of pages here, and while the links are all available on the inside pages, there are entirely too many of them, making navigation an overwhelming experience.

The main level navigation links introduced on the front page are on the left sidebar, but then change horizontal navigation bar just under the header area. From a user standpoint, this is confusing.

When you use the links within the product box area those lead you into a fluid width design, and all navigation is lost, forcing me to use the back button to navigate anywhere else. Very unusable.

I find the inner pages hard to read, and the content area needs definition. This site would be more usable if they maintained the front page layout through the site, keeping all the links pertinent to the page.

Mooove to Standards – Frames are out

Introduction

Short and Sweet is a Australian based web design company, but unfortunately that was all the information I obtained about them from their website. There is nothing listed about who they are, or anything else about their business, but they have a few sites in their gallery to show the work they produce.

Form

When first landing on this web site, I immediately saw a cow with a message about business, and a “software box” with a cow in it leaving me a bit confused as to exactly what this company does. The high placed header answers that question pretty quickly, but then I really am not guided on where to go.

This site forces me to read to get the message about what they do and I don’t want to read… Users don’t tend to spend much time reading content on a designers site and instead jump right into the portfolio.

Since this is a web design company the first thing I want to see is your work. If I like your work, I will then read about your services and prices to fit my needs. I feel that this design did not take the user into consideration when it was laid out.

I find that the link to the portfolio is buried much too deep in the navigation, and since this is a “web design company” that the link should be titled “portfolio” or the like. It is just what a user expects to see on a site that designs websites.

I am not totally opposed to the design of this site but there is much room for improvement. I am a fan of blue/green combinations, and like its use here. However, the “blocking” used makes the design look disconnected and does not “flow” well. My eyes are not led to “action” items, and instead they continually go to the cow.

The navigation, though well placed, could use some attention to the text, an increase in font size would be helpful, and I would prefer to see it connected to the logo “box” rather than having the empty blue space above it. The entire sidebar could be recolored to better blend the logo/navigation area so as they appear more “connected”.

The content area of the site is readable and that is good – obviously that is the most important part. I would like to see some leading/spacing used to make it a bit cleaner, and the bullets used on the front page should be enhanced and lessened to three areas of focus keeping it “short & sweet”.

The graphics used in the site do not match, and the use of clip art on the packages pages is not something I would like to see from a “web design company”. As mentioned already, the software boxes used in this design do not fit.

Function

I wanted to give this site high marks for usability as there are not many pages to the site, so there is really no way to get lost here, however when I looked at the markup, all hopes for that high mark went down the drain.

Frames. Not usable, and depreciated. This part really brings my review score down.

Also, the opening of a new window on the packages page for an example, is not good design. Instead, an on site case study is what I would expect to see on a site of this type.

There is no web form in use for the contact page, forcing the user to open their email program to contact the company. Again, low score for usability. A web form is something a user expects on a contact page, along with the email and phone number. You have to give the user the easiest route, and then the choices.

Conclusion

Overall, this website is not terrible, but there are definitely some points to ponder. The company should rethink the images used to convey the overall message of the site, and pay a bit of attention to consistency in design throughout all its pages. The code is poor and depreciated, utilizing framesets.