Express Identification Products

expresscorp.com is the website of express, a company that provide barcode and labeling solutions in San Diego, California.

The homepage looks good but a bit old school. I like the different labels in the header and the 3 columns in the content area. However, there was nothing that could draw me to click on any of the links. The featured product is probably the highlight of the page, so maybe the use of bigger graphics or nicer buttons might draw people to click on it.

The statement “A leading manufacturer of Identification Products Serving customers worldwide since 1984.” should also appear higher up or earlier to let people know what the site is about earlier.

The homepage also appeared static as there were no dynamic elements like news flash or testimonials. People might think that the site has not been updated for ages.

The homepage wasn’t badly designed. It just wasn’t spiced up enough and too static.


fig 1. different layout for inner pages?

The inner pages looked simple and easy to navigate but the layout was totally different from the homepage. I did get a different experience when I was in the inner pages. The “view all products” page (see fig 1) should have more visuals, so putting thumbnails beside each product would help improve user experience (even allow bigger popup images upon clicking on the thumbnails).

The product pages looked good but I hope the font size to be bigger to improve readability.

In conclusion, I like to see a seamless transition from the home page to the inner pages (same layout, footer, header…etc). The site had great content but they were too boring and dead. I hope to see some more moving elements and buzz.

Property Management Reviews

propertymanagementreviews.org is a website that allows one to find and compare property management companies by reading independent reviews given by landlords and tenants. The website send me a strong message of “Find and Compare Property Management Companies” when I visited it.

The main navigation was clear at the very top of the page even though the contrast of the background on the menu text upon mouse over could be better. The logo looked good floated left and the advertisement floated right. Looking further down in the headers, prescription I saw the “find mangers” search box – I hoped to see some ajax checking on the zip code even before clicking on submit as I could type in the wrong zip code.


fig 1. Property Search results.


fig 2. Detail page of the management company.

Fig 1 showed a search result for zip code 30671 and fig 2 was a screen shot when I clicked on one of the “read more” link. As the title of the site suggested, stuff I was looking for a company with the best reviews but could not find any. I hoped to see some quick links to these companies from the home page or at least on the side menu. Give me some recommendations!

As the homepage described, viagra

“Begin by choosing your city from the dropdown menu at the right of this page.”

I looked that right and saw the city drop down near the footer. I thought the drop down should have been more obvious near the top. The content in the homepage content area was well written but the Phoeonix self storage footer link (for seo reasons?) discredited the site a bit.


fig 3. no polls on the right column.

On the right column, the polls section could be removed since there was no polls at the moment. The real estate and services section had links not related to the website as well.

The Property Management Software Review section was a good resource but the number of reviews for each software did not tally with the actual number of reviews. The property cities page needed some layout fix as well. At the time of writing, the contact us page was also broken.

Conclusion

In conclusion, propertymanagementreviews.org needed a total rework in terms of usability. The site seemed to be heavily seo optimised and served as a link hub. The site had very obvious unrelated links and this is something that the webmaster might want to take note of.

OpenLink Software

OpenLink is a MNC that creates risk management products for the energy and financial services sectors. As expected from a corporate website, the navigation is consistent and layout quite structured.

Homepage

I was greeted with a nice, colorful and friendly website upon first visiting it. If I were a potential customer, the homepage would definitely give me a sense of trust. The search box on the top right was intuitive to use but seemed to be sit a bit too high up for me (I thought it should be aligned with the logo). The language option below the search box was good. I was glad when people bother to make their site multi-lingual – kudos for that.

Then I saw the word “Decision Support Software For Transaction Lifecycle Management“.. sounded too bombastic for me (non-technical people). These words might ring a bell if they are targeting at the right people. I could see that the four columns immediately underneath the header banner, implying the four main categories of the website even though I didn’t understand the jargons. The four categories were “Financial Institutions and Capital Markets”, “Corporations and Non-Financial Institutions”, “Agricultural Products, CPG, Food and Beverage, and Manufacturing” and lastly “Energy, Commodities, Extraction and Production Industries”. The category names were a lot to digest. How about an icon for each and simplify the title?

I thought the category colours blend in very well with the headers and background. I was not sure of the changing graphics in between each column though as they appeared to be part of some rotational news. Perhaps the graphics should be part of the news box and the whole box clickable.


Fig 1. Footer has a lot of space?

The footer looked weird with the name of the three companies (dbcSmartSoftware, IRM, SolArc). The listing of the companies created some extra empty spaces in the footer. A mouseover drop down for the three companies sounded like a better deal for me.


fig 2. Another nice way to navigate using Javascript effects.

Other Pages

While navigating to the “companies” page, I noticed that the links to the four main categories have moved to the top. That was an excellent place for primary navigation. Unfortunately, it was not consistent throughout the site. The left menu on all the other pages was functional but lack of creativity. Some nice mouseover effects or icons would be cool.


fig 3. Great content with expandable “read more”

I could see that the content for each page was professionally written. Kudos again! However in the “about us” page, I noticed some links were linking to files in the local machines. For example, “Financial institutions and capital markets” was linked to file:///Macintosh HD/… Hopefully, the webmaster can correct that asap. I would also like to see more graphics in replace of text. The Software News Archive section desperately needed more graphics.

Conclusion

www.olf.com is a professionally designed and trusted corporate website. I hope that the webmaster can inject more icons/graphics in the site and perhaps try some creative layout. I also hope to see more engagement with the community. The Montreal OpenLink User Conference 2012 is a good place to create some buzz.

Making a name in Realty

2M Realty provides services in the Houston real estate market and aims to simplify stress for buyers and sellers while continuing to provide excellent customer service.

Form

The 2M Realty website is very organised and is presented in serious colours of green and blue. A simple Flash slideshow of photos adds a bit of interest to the site, and icons and logos also add interest further down the page. The two column layout is a nice touch and a lot of information is presented professionally and neatly to the viewer. My main concern is with the logo – it’s a nice logo but not as memorable as it could be. The 2M Realty website will be remembered for its professionality, as well as being a useful tool, but if the brand is to be recalled, it might be recalled vaguely, as the name and the logo require more work for viewers to memorise it, especially if there’s some competition with an easier-to-remember name and a more exciting logo. The same could be said of the domain name – it’s easy enough to bookmark the site, but try typing in www.2mrealty.com and lots of people will end up mistyping it.

Since 2M Realty Advisors attract people who need the service, I doubt any custom will be lost from the unmemorable logo at the first step. However, when it comes to telling their friends “I bought my house through (can’t remember?)” there will be less repeat custom.

Rather than taking the drastic step of renaming or rebranding the business, maybe a new identity could be invented, purely for internet purposes? 2M Realty Advisors could become “Houston Realty” or something easy and catchy? A new domain name could always be purchased, and the old domain name could continue to forward to the website. Just add “(old name) trading as (new name)” at the bottom of the site.

Buyers can find their way around the site easily, and the “Search” box on the top right of the main page is in the right place for quick reference. Navigation is straightforward and all links appear to work.

A very small error involves a full stop in the top phone number, instead of the hyphen used down the bottom. It’s not a big deal – with so much information to organise, some inconsistencies can be expected and corrected over time.

Function

The website communicates its purpose excellently and is a useful tool for viewers. Pages load reasonably well and the coding is CMS related and designed by a development team specialising in real estate websites.

I like to also congratulate the team for building an iphone application for internet users to access their database using their iphones – http://www.2mrealty.com/iphone.php. This will definitely give 2mrealty a winning edge over their competitors.

The drop down display for Search Area Homes

fig 1. The drop down display for “Search Area Homes”

An unusual function is contained within the top boxes where there is an arrow for “Search Area Homes”. Click on the box and the page moves down to display the information. I really liked the “Contact Us” display, but the “Search Area Homes” confused me as the display was a little long and didn’t fit in with the overall theme of the website.

Professional organisation at the bottom of the page

fig 2. Professional organisation at the bottom of the page

Would you remember this logo, letter for letter?

fig 3. Would you remember this logo, letter for letter?

Conclusion

Overall, 2M Realty is well done, professionally presented and a useful website. However, the marketing of the brand name might need some work to get people to remember the company better. Word of mouth advertising cannot be underestimated (and it’s free!) The excellent organisation of the site is a good reflection on the company and will beat any competitors who are unorganised. Well done!

Don’t Bore Users To Death

Introduction

All Vehicle Registration Services (AVRS) is located in Sacramento, California. They handle all types of vehicle title and registration in California. Their website is simple and functional but is too boring to retain any visitors.

There are many tell tail signs that the web designer is an amateur… we are all beginners from the start. “Why get a designer if I can do it myself”? Yes, you can but there is a price to pay.

I actually think that the author has the right content for a small scale site but is crippled by the lack of design skills. The website is small, so users are going to focus on language details and graphics.

Form

The graphics are not optimised at all – they are big for no reason. You don’t need a graphic for simple text on a coloured background. In fact, separating text and graphics is a good idea. In that way, search engines can read your text and graphics can please your visitors. One good example where this can be implemented is the tag line in the home page:

“Your vehicles should always be on the road. Working as a team AVRS will customize our service to meet your needs.”

There are some sections where graphics should be used. Having the client’s logo under “our clients” is more convincing. Adding people images under testimonial is also a good idea. Mouseover hyperlinks should be consistent. Using italics for hyperlinks can be irritating (see home page).

I am not too sure of the choice of categories in the top main menu. I think ‘links’ does not deserve a place there because there are better candidates. There is also something weird about the top navigation. The menu disappears every time you are in that section. For example, if you are in ‘about us’, the ‘about us’ menu disappears. If the author does not want users to click ‘about us’ under the ‘about us’ section (and I wonder why), I would highlight the ‘about us’ menu and make it non-clickable instead and making it disappear.

Function

I think the content is good. The home page actually tells the visitor what the site is about. The font size is big and the design and colours are simple. I don’t really like the home page but I think it is functional except for the extra ‘title’ in the page title. I am also quite surprised that the extra links in home page body aren’t available elsewhere. There seems to be quite abit of content in FAQs but FAQs aren’t accessible from anywhere except from home page – consider having a sitemap?

For me, the 2 important sections to focus are “our clients” and “testimonials”. Too bad, these 2 sections aren’t that interesting. Overall, I think the look and feel of the website might suit users aged 40 and above.

Conclusion

I can go on and on. There are too many things that can be done to improve the site usability and effectiveness. The first thing I would do is to add more and replace the old boring graphics.

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fig 1. Boring ‘Our Clients’ Section

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fig 2. Boring ‘Testimonial’ Page

Web Design In Seattle

Introduction

The Visualscope Studios is a Seattle Web Design company that does Website Development, here Web Design and Search Engine Optimization. They provide online marketing and e-commerce solutions as well.

Form

It’s always hard work to create a web design site, pills as people expect it to be more brilliant than most of the websites out there, mind and there’s a lot of technical information to squeeze in which also has to be explained to a general audience in layman’s terms. Visualscope Studios has a professional layout and design using blue and orange colours in a two columns. The use of key points which are linked to further information for “Web Design & Development” and “Online Marketing” etc are a good way of shortening a lot of detail, and the orange and white arrow/circle bullets are cute too. The top banner has a silhouette of a man/boy opening his arms to the sky to portray maximum potential, and while this is an acceptable design, it’s not really “out there” as a concept to grab an audience with so much competition for website services around.

The message of the website is repeated twice – once in the top banner with “Maximize the full potential of your website” and secondly with “Let us help your website reach its true potential” in the left column. If I had to pick which message attracted me the most, I would definitely say the brightly coloured left column one stood out – so getting rid of the top banner message could assist the graphic to work better on its own?

Fonts used are used well – key words are in bold, phone numbers stand out in smaller text and the main blue and orange message got my attention. The headings in grey with small orange and white arrow bullets are nicely subtle, and the repetition of the web services (from the left column bullets) to the right web services list are necessary, as on the left they are images and on the right it is text, allowing those who don’t see images to see something. I liked having the right click disabled – little details like this are attractive to potential web design customers and I also liked the short amount of information on the front page and the box-like design which made it feel contained neatly.

Clicking through the pages revealed a consistent site, the main issues being the repetition of information (such as the list of services which appears too often) and the banner images which weren’t quite exciting enough. I recognised many banner images from popular stock photography websites and I believe a personal touch with the artwork is the best way to be original (or even try manipulating the stock photography images to create something new). I would definitely recommend removing text from the banner images unless it is very visible. The white text on the yellow “about” banner is an example of text that is hard to read, also the font on the banners does not match the rest of the website. Instead of repeating information, maybe a simplistic approach could be tried, or new information inserted. A lot of people seem to like uncluttered websites and find them easier to read.

The background is a grey gradient that gives the box design a “floating” effect. Keep this one – it works well! The copyright text down the bottom in subtle grey with black hover is great too.

The orange navigation menu under the banner is very obvious and easy to follow. The grey hover colour helps too. All pages appeared linked and overall navigation was very good.

Function

The Web Site Services page explains in simple terms to the viewer what the services are (no mean feat for web designers – we’ve all found that a bit hard). Well done on explaining the services in less than seven short paragraphs! If people are not yet convinced, they also provide their Web Design Portfolio online. It was really good to see the professional looking websites they designed before which became better when the links were opened. Another nice touch was having the Visualscope Studios heading at the top of each loaded website – and the links continued to load in the bar too.

If they are doing seo for a company, then perhaps some statistics would be even more convincing. How about putting some search engine ranking figures (before and after) for the “Wailua Bay View Condominiums” project?

Conclusion

Visualscope Studios is a professional looking website that should attract customers. Their portfolio is good and the main components of the website are effective. Personally, I feel that there are a few design issues which mostly involve trying to inject more originality and pizzaz into it – in any other industry this website would be terrific – but for website design, which is highly competitive, more work is needed for this website to stand out from the crowd. Search Engine Optimization is focused strongly in the entire site and if that is their selling point, then perhaps design becomes secondary.

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fig 1. Cute “bullets” and nice text

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fig 2. This text could use some work

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fig 3. The portfolio websites look interesting

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fig 4. This banner is a bit daggy

Watch This Website!

Introduction

City Chain is one of the key players in the watch retail industry. With over 200 retail shops throughout SE Asia and the Far East, City chain is marketed as a sleek, professional brand with a website to match.

Form

Upon entering the City hain website, you are greeted with a trendy looking Flash intro that loads quickly and uses colour and patterns efficiently to attract your interest. With the option to skip the movie, it’s a very modern design that is correctly laid out in a good sequence. The home page which follows is just as nice-looking, but is left aligned while the intro is centre aligned. This detracts a bit from having a consistent design.

The main home page also has a Flash intro of a basketball star in sporty poses on a background of a lightning field and a large watch imposed in suitable places. City Chain has managed to convey this difficult-to-design message quite well and it’s very professional looking without being too corporate.

At the top of the page are red buttons containing navigational elements and the logo is in the top left. A few details made me think that this website is really well designed – the navigation was all in one place and simple to view, the elements of the page were simple but effective with colour and the focus was on the product (which is after all, why people are visiting this website).

I liked the Asian characters next to the logo and also for translation on the pages. It was essential this site was in another language as their shops are in Asia – but by being able to see the site in English I believe City Chain will reach a wider audience. The translation elements need to be consistent however – it would be good to choose to view the site in either language before entering it or making sure that only English is displayed when clicking the top right English button, as the translation buttons are in different places on different pages and some are interactive while some are not. This could confuse viewers who like to know where to find the right button!

On the Catalogue page, it would have been good to read a short paragraph about each of the brands so that I had an idea what they were about. The layout varies from page to page but this was done quite well from a one column layout to a two column one and kept my interest. It could help though if the red tabs on the left of the Catalogue page matched the red tabs on the left of the Contact Us page etc.

It was also refreshing to see a lack of advertising or Google Ads on the pages and I’m glad City Chain think their brand is more worthwhile content than someone else’s ads.

Function

Navigation was very easy to follow, with a main menu at the top with bright red buttons. The rollovers on the buttons are quite slow however and I have often found this to be the case when image rollovers are used. It could be worth making the image rollovers into textual ones by changing the CSS hover style. I know it wouldn’t be the same font as the logo, but believe me, customers will hardly notice with the red boxes and the fact that they are reading and clicking on the text instead of just looking at it.

There is a confusion between languages especially in the customer service page. If the default language is english, then all the pages should be in english without prompting the user to choose the language. Though the flash is attractive, I found it very lacking in terms of content. The “about us” page needs to work harder. If they consider themselves as a key player in the watch industry, we would want to know more about them! I would also like to read more about the different models they have, faqs… more, more and more.

The site is very dead in terms of content and there is no buzz at all. The company needs to re-think if they want any web presence at all. Perhaps if they allocate abit of budget in online advertising, things might get better?

Conclusion

Competitors watch out – if City Chain put as much content and presentation into their products as they do into their website, customers will be queuing up to buy! There are a few layout and design issues and a competition or special offer might be needed to attract new customers but this is a cool website that is attractive to modern watch hunters. Excellent concept and (mostly) well executed!

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fig 1. A frame from the Flash intro

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fig 2. Interactive navigation is interesting

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fig 3. Product catalogue

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fig 4. Simple store location map is quite effective

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fig 5. Essential Asiatic language for the natives

A Simple and Well Coded Finance website

Introduction

RepayMortgage.co.uk is a website about Sell and Rent Back Property. They promote debt solutions, view offering no obligation appraisals to best meet client needs using refinancing and reselling as their main focal tools.

Form

RepayMortgage is a very simple looking site and there is only one major graphic of green hills at the top. While green hills and green colouring can be soothing to potential desperate clients in need of help, the hills remind one of the default Windows XP background, commonly found on computers around the world. Without a strong company logo to identify RepayMortgage as a completely separate business, the colours of blue and green make this website look like hundreds of other websites out there and may not look memorable. Having a logo in what looks like a webfont (instead of in another, more elaborate font) gives one the impression that the company is not serious about its website.

The tagline “Clear your mortgage debt and keep your home, or sell and move on free from debts” gives away the game too quickly and could be shortened for impact and to keep the mystery so the reader has to read on. Maybe “Clear your mortgage debt” is good enough? Also the tagline is in a webfont too, so maybe by coming up with a more original top banner, incorporating a unique logo and the shortenened tagline with a new font could help this website a lot.

The nice grey background while plain, appropriately draws attention to the text in the middle two-column affair, but the blue background headers contain the text too close to the edge for professionalism. A way to fix this is to indent the header text (an inserted fancy bullet symbol can make it look more in line with the paragraphs). Heading text could also be made the same size as paragraph text (although bolded) to make it fit seamlessly into the page and make the font choices look businesslike.

On the main page are three bolded questions to the potential client at the top and I feel these could be made more exciting, such as using a bright colour or larger text to grab the eye. Making these questions into a graphic (eg a comic thought balloon eminating from someone) would further enhance the message.

It is pleasing to see textlinks down the bottom of the page with a sitemap so readers couldn’t get lost. Some sites put the sitemap in a prominent place but this technique isn’t needed as the navigation is simple. The XHTML 1.0 Script link on the bottom of most pages should be removed, as most visitors are not really interested or understand much about it and also because when you click on it it says “Not Validated”.

Function

The left menu is consistent on all pages and is very easy to follow. The main navigation is on top while the extra information links are below. I didn’t have any problems with navigating this website. My only comment is that the “Find properties to rent” link didn’t open in a new window, hence unsavvy visitors might not be able to find the RepayMortgage website again.

The site content is useful and well written and this is especially evident on the “Information to help stop repossession” page where pre-empted enquiries and a simple list of answers can help the Repay Mortgage website to minimise customer queries, thus saving time and money. The page with “A quick property sale” is also a good example of the well-written content, demonstrating the webmaster’s (or webwriter’s) ability in making what could be difficult and legal-speak English comprehensible to clients.

I found the “Contact” page had handy telephone numbers and an email for contact as well as the standard contact form. I wasn’t sure about the idea of phone numbers containing capital Os instead of 0s though…

The source code is extremely clean and easy to read. It does not have any complex javascript or anything that blocks search engine spiders from crawling the site. No doubt, the author built the site with great emphasis in search engine optimisation. Check out the source code and see it for yourself.

Conclusion

The Repay Mortgage website has all the right ingredients for a good business website, but needs to work on a corporate identity and fine tune some small website design errors. The coding and content is great. I believe that the well-written content will be helpful to potential customers and makes the company sound friendly, professional and helpful.

www.repaymortgage.co.uk.1
fig 1. Plain webfont logo & tagline, with common green hills banner

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fig 2. Blue headers need indented text

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fig 3. Capital O

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fig 4. Questions need to stand out more

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fig 5. Remove the XHTML 1.0 Script text link

Desperateness Kills

Introduction

musiccontracts101.com is a website that sells a wide range of music software and contracts. The design of the website is simple and straight forward but the author seems too desperate to sell his software.

Form and Function

I was greeted with a floating window that asks me to sign up for a newsletter upon first entry to the site. Should I reveal my true email address? I believe it is a “no” for most people because of the fear of receiving spam mails. The author probably knows that most people block popup windows, case so he uses a floating “div” to get around the problem. I strongly advice people not to use this technique because it is not a good practice and does not reflect good on the integrity of the company or person running the website.

I navigated the site abit and the thing that kept catching my attention was the right column – the testimonials. The testimonials appear on almost all the pages, viagra prompting the user to click on the flash “play” button. I have to agree that the flash voice testimonials are cool but they have been over-used.

The source code reveals the professionalism of a website. A quick “view source” will tell you that the author of musiccontracts101.com tries to optimize the site for search engines but has again, over-done it. There are also simple mistakes in the title and meta tags like the use of html in the title. If I were to be the search engine, I would love to penalize this site for keyword spamming.

Conclusion

I would love to do a more thorough review but was put off but the recurring popups (Sorry). The author is too desperate to sell his stuff. I would love to see more information on the music software and probably improvements on the overall layout, color and design. Though there are alot of testimonials, I am not sure if I believe in any of them.

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The Markstar Group

Introduction

The Markstar Group is formed by a team of designers dedicated to offering its customers professional websites, web hosting, and domain registration. A quick visit to markstargroup.com revealed that the team had spend alot of time in perfecting the site.

Form

My attention was captured by the cartoonish, graffiti-like art in the header when I first entered the site. The graphic gave me an impression that they might be targeting at creating websites for musicians, graphic artists or creative people. I wasn’t sure if that was the author’s intention, but that was what I got from the headers and strong color contrast in the home page. Looking at the content of the site, I saw a well organized and meticulous designer behind the scene.

The colors used are soothing to the eyes and complement each other. My only concern is the interplay of greys in the site. There are situations when the background greys are quite close to the black text in the body; this does not provide enough contrast for the eyes to read the text easily. The author has also used adsense graphic intelligently to break the monotonous content.

The layout and spacing used in the site is very consistent. That implies that the creators are well-organized and meticulous – something desirable from web designers. However, as a web design company, I would expect more from them. I looked through all the pages, looking for evidence of strong design skills but couldn’t find any. Perhaps the author might consider changing the header graphic on every pages to add abit of variation to the user’s browsing experience. However, the current banner used (main_banner.jpg) is already 33 kb, so I would take that into consideration if I want to re-design the header.

The portfolio page is the most important section for a web design company. The company is probably new, so it is understandable that they do not have a strong portfolio to show. One good idea is to describe every project that they have done thoroughly. By making every project looked ‘big”, they convey a message to their potential customers that they are passionate and takes pride in their work.

Function

I would like to give a thumbs up to the navigation. No one would ever get lost in the website. This is probably because there are only main menus and no sub-menus. The author managed to keep the content simple and therefore, does not need to make the navigation deep. The only section that has deeper categories is the support section. Even when using a ready made knowledge-base script as a plugin, the author managed to customized the colors to fit into the overall look and feel of the entire website.

Markstargroup.com has also provided a positive demonstration of the use of adsense in the entire site. Commercial websites that want to use adsense must know how to place their ads correctly. The most common problem with most business sites is to prioritized ads over content. Unless your purpose is to want your visitors to click on the ads rather than to look at what you have to offer, ads can be damaging to the reputation of your company. The ads used in this website are not overwhelming and tactically placed – another plus point.

The team has left their company details in the “About Us” and “Contact Us” page which is quite unusual for many small or ad-hoc web design companies. Unless the company has a strong organization behind it, many people would prefer to keep it as a secret. Would you use the services or buy products from someone that does not provide a reliable way of contacting them? It is quite unlikely…

Markstargroup is offering hosting as well. Therefore, they have to be easily contactable if someone has problems with their website. I strongly suggest that they also leave their direct email and phone number but that would also depend on how ready they are in the business.

Conclusion

Markstargroup.com has done a good job in introducing themselves to the world as people who can design and host websites. The design and colors used in the website also suggests that the team is young and energetic. The website header and portfolio graphics gave me these few keywords:”teens, games, funky, rap, creative, art.” These keywords probably also imply their target audience.

As a new company, they show great potential in what they can do but it seems that they still need to work very hard in terms of credibility especially when the web design and hosting industry are highly competitive.

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