Parents – Send your kids to pbskids!

Introduction

PBS Kids has a huge selection of interactive kid’s games, showcasing TV characters that kids love. The website is designed in flash and is one of the best children website out there.

This is the second review for pbskids.org. Check out the kids section.

There’s so much to look at and play with on this site, kids will be kept busy for hours! With exciting graphics and interesting things to do, the kids don’t have to know the TV characters to enjoy themselves. A lot of work has gone into this website and it shows.

Form

The pages in PBS Kids seem to be simple and well laid out, with minimal (but important) information to focus on. These aspects are especially suitable for children’s websites, where the kids need to have clear choices about where to go in the site. The main activities mostly happen in the centre of the screen (where they should be) and the buttons, pictures and text are clickable and reactive. There is sound, so make sure you turn your speakers on to hear!

I was impressed with the interesting way the designers managed to use bright colours throughout the site, while keeping the central, interactive parts the main attraction – this is the hallmark of an experienced web designer or team of designers – design is all about communicating the message and these people have done it well. Backgrounds are exciting but well thought out and general site info that wouldn’t be interesting to kids is contained in subtle, out-of-the-way places, as it should be. Graphics are cute and attractive as well as loading quickly, and anyone who has worked on this site would be proud to put it on their resume.

I’d suggest that the age group targeted would be 4-11 year olds.

I encountered a Flash message on navigating from the main page to some of the character pages and although it was necessary, it was a bit boring compared to the rest of the site. Since it was left aligned and in a standard web font it didn’t really fit with what else was on there – maybe dressing this up while keeping it fast loading would help with consistency?

Function

The website is made of html pages with CSS coding (mandatory on a huge site like this), with javascript functions for the interactivity and in some cases, flash objects. Flash movies with sound and fast loading rollover gifs (javascript) make up the bulk of the games and interactive parts.

Navigation is quite simple due to the minimalist approach where pictures say more than words. I don’t think many kids would have trouble navigating on this website as the choices are pretty obvious. All navigation appears to work and goes to the right page. PBS Kids is a great example of how a huge children’s website should be built.

I really enjoyed the lack of obvious advertising in this website, as the only advertising at all seemed to be in the fact of playing with the TV cartoon characters. As a parent who often has to stop the kids from wanting to buy everything, websites like PBS Kids mean that the most amount of work required from a parent at a later stage would possibly be to tune in to the TV shows. At the same time, I guess PBS Kids has a website in the first place to attract people to their shows!

The games within the website are excellent and will hold kid’s attention. An example of the games contained include lots of printables, lots of scenarios with interactive play such as online cooking (you click on ingredients and the character cooks a meal), click and drag items, online books and much more. Lots of fun and some new stuff here as well.

Conclusion

PBS Kids is a great website for kids – I highly recommend a visit there as it is educational and interesting. The huge variety of things to do will keep kids busy for hours and the website is reasonably fast loading, so the kids can have some fun at their pace online. To the designers of this website – pull out the champagne and give yourselves a pat on the back – you have earned it!


Sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. Central focus area on page

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fig 2. The boring Flash message

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fig 3. Online cooking game

Harry Potter Web Magic

Introduction

The latest Harry Potter movie, The Order of the Phoenix, has it’s own website, which is an interesting online experience promoting the movie. This is one of the most well-designed Harry Porter website so far.

Form and Function

When first arriving at the website, your browser will probably ask for an add-on, but I suspect this is only necessary for those of you who need to view in a language other than English, because the Flash introduction worked OK without the add-on for me. The design of the introduction was very good, a basic middle Flash container with Warner Bros. website links up the top, an opportunity to skip the movie within the container, links to different language versions (these were greyed out due to the add-on I suspect), some red “alert” text and other bits such as a privacy policy etc. I liked the design of the Flash container with the magical looking border corners, but upon further inspection, I noticed that the 4 border corners were different in size and design to each other but this took a while to notice as the whole effect was pretty good – and design-wise the border corners couldn’t have been better. Pressing the Sound On/Off button worked on the main part of the website where there was background sound but not on the intro which was interesting but quite loud.

With lots of black, wood colouring, and olde fashioned textures, the site reminded me of the old Lord of the Rings site. The main website page had a two column layout, with Harry Potter website links on the left, the main viewing screen on the right and all the links needed for Warner Bros. website on the top and bottom. The left menu had some interesting CSS for the hover functions and also some nice looking hover down menus. Olde weathered wood textures abounded and with a default creepy image of Voldemort in all his horrible glory, the home page had an excellent appearance.

Clicking on the Marauder’s Map (top right) leads to some addictive and well presented games. I had some trouble opening the Pensieve link though, I believe the add-on might have been needed for this one. Some of the items require you to sign up to the website – these involve “joining Hogwarts” or downloading webmaster materials and so on. The content and depth of the site was quite good – lots of things to look at, lots of latest updates and info and lots of things for people of all ages to enjoy.

One slight error was found on the home page left menu where the “Marauder’s Map” link was missing an apostrophe and had a default font box instead. I suspect this is due to my browser not having the right webfont. And the blue text in the same menu needed to be just a hint darker so it could be read easier.

The navigation worked fine, all the links appeared linked. Some items didn’t load because I didn’t have the add-on, but you could download it rather easily (I just wanted to see what the add-on would be needed for). The Flash movies played fine and it looked like the site had been built by people who really knew their stuff.

Coding is a mix of html, ASPX, Flash, javascript and CSS. And I must say that while the code is a bit bulky, the loading time is quite reasonable when you consider how long the Flash intro is and the elaborate set up of all the different codes in unison. Loading time is medium to fast but varies depending on which part of the site you are loading.

It was interesting to see the amount of keywords and the long description inserted into the source code, a bit of an eye opener for someone like me who does a list of 30 keywords and a couple of sentences for the metatags normally. You can certainly see why they’d get so many visitors and you could also see that they wanted to promote the website intensely.

Conclusion

The Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix website is a website worth visiting for Harry Potter fans – I am thinking about going back and having some fun on it after completing this review! Outstanding looking design, swish graphics and very minor errors make for an interesting viewer experience and promotes the movie effortlessly. I do think that most people visiting the site would have either seen the movie or read the book but since Harry Potter is so popular there is sure to be no shortage of viewers.


Sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. The Marauder’s Map

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fig 2. Issues on the left menu

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fig 3. The Daily Prophet nes & updates

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fig 4. Triwizard Challenge page

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fig 5. One of the games

Dolls, Dollz & Dolly Parton

Introduction

Cartoon Dolls is a place where your favourite dolls come alive. There are lots of activities to do such as doll dress up, celebrity dress up, colouring pages, crafts etc. If you are a fan of dolls, you should visit the website.

Form

This site is loud, flashy and interesting to the audience for which it is intended (I suspect they are pre-pubescent girls) but not instantly appealing to adults. The home page has lots of small graphics on it and some small animated graphics (the small graphics mean smaller file sizes when combining a lot of them) and the overall colours are black and blue. It’s a bit girly in the graphics but not overly so with the colours and the site is laid out in a three column structure with lots to look at and read.

The graphics are original (created by Dollz and Doll Makers of the World) and the site is targeted well towards pre-pubescent/teenage girls, with things to do, lots to read and some flash and glitter. The three column structure is suitable for the amount of information contained and advertising is suitable for the content. Clicking on any page from the main page brings up pages with different coloured backgrounds, more graphics and the activities to do. As a website intended for adults, all of this would fail acceptable website design standards; since it is intended for youngsters it has the perfect combination of busy text/graphics and lots of different colours and backgrounds.

Function

I found the Doll Palace Navigator only came up on some of the pages. This means that although you can click the “back” button in your browser, navigation to pages might a bit confusing. The colours of blue and black might not be appealing to pre-pubescent girls, although black and blue add to the “gizmo” look about it like videogames, phones and smileys so this might mean I am in error in judging suitable colours for this market. The front page could use one larger and more elaborate graphic to “grab” attention, as there are quite a few cartoony looking sites to compete with out there.

Some interesting sections of the site include “Dress Up Games” (which involves creating dolls in certain fashions) and “Colouring Pages” and both are interactive and complex parts of the website. “Dress Ups” has a large selection of dress ups to pick from. Upon clicking on one of these, you are able to choose the entire outfit, body, pets, background and accessories for your doll and there are thousands of combinations possible. After you have created a doll, you can save it and access the html code for forums, MySpace sites etc. The sample doll I created for this review was pretty spiffy and exciting, even though I am well into my 20s (and female, incidently!)

Colouring Pages” allows you to colour in pictures of dolls with a moderate colour picker. I couldn’t find a button to save my coloured image, so I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do much with the finished product except view it. Also, I went to colour in a face and it coloured in part of the hair, eyes and dress as well so the outlines need to be more clearly defined in some of the template drawings. The colour picker worked at a average speed and the Colouring Book of Dollz with the magic brush worked well and were interesting.

Code is php with inserted javascripts and images are jpg, gif and png but tend to have smaller file sizes due to straight colouring, not gradiated graphics (ie cartoons). Loading times are fast.

Conclusion

The Doll Palace is quite a large website with lots of activities and images and is well suited to its intended audience of pre-pubescent girls and possibly, older girls. In this review, I didn’t get the chance to explore all of it, but the parts I visited were interesting and good looking (if you like cartoony graphics). I felt the authors put in a ton of work and while they might be sighing with relief after all that creativity, they may be in for a bigger battle to attract audiences in future decades when the competition steps up a notch with 3D virtual worlds, messaging, personalisation and freebies taking over the web. However, since the doll activities are free, personalised and can be sent to your friends, the battle may well be half over.

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fig 1. Doll Palace Navigator appears on some pages and not on others

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fig 2. Screen Image of the interesting Dress Up Games

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fig 3. Ooops! My doll’s hair and face are the same colour

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fig 4. The fast-action magic brush tool in the Dollz Colouring Book

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fig 5. My cute Dress Up doll

Animal Corner: An Encyclopaedia for Kids

Introduction

Animal Corner is “a place to meet animals of the world” and is an interesting children’s website that I recommend be added to your kid’s bookmarks for surfing. It contains information and facts about all sorts of animals and aspires to be a one stop reference for kids seeking animal information.

Form and Function

With easy to read text (in small paragraphs and sentences) and pics of animals, cure Animal Corner certainly conveys the idea of an online animal reference site well. The safari green, seek brown and evergreen colour scheme creates an impression of environmental awareness and place of animal sanctuary. For adults, this colour scheme is terrific – for children it may be a little drab. Children would like the logo a lot however, as it has plenty of colour and animals while being a suitably interesting and apt corporate identity. The top decorations of the animals in circles which appear on the Wildlife page help to add interest and colour to the site and use the advanced concept of representing the links via images with no text. Kids do love this style of navigation as it is visual, not textual.

Navigation traditionally occurs from a left menu bar but also occurs in cute little animal cartoons, such as alligator starburst reading “Check out our new Reptile section here at Animal Corner”. This is a good idea for child-friendly navigation and helps fill up the page while keeping the loading times fast. The green stripes in the main white area give the impression of an extra right panel where the advertising and site features are placed appropriately. I was happy to see that the advertising was suitably animal-related and not all profit-based. Some advertising appears below the detailed animal descriptions but this is hardly interfering with the content. On the left menu appears some conservational logos and links which are very helpful for this type of website and are likely to be of interest to children (such as the “feed an animal” link).

Upon clicking on the left menu I found that the menu listings changed around a bit depending on where you went (for example the menu displays different items on the Home page to the Pets page) and this could be a bit confusing when searching. The colours changed in the different categories (tan/brown for Pets, cream/green for Insects etc) and while this would not be helpful on a normal corporate site, for children it will probably enhance the viewing experience. The right panel comes in useful in these category pages as it displays another menu for checking out individual species and is far more likely to help children than pull down menus and site trees and maps. A few pages didn’t use this although they had obvious links (ie the Pet page) so there may be some navigational confusion even though the Pet links are contained at the top of the main page. The picture bar up the top changes also for each category also and I noticed the logo size varied between the pages.

The individual species pages include a few key pics of the animals and the facts and figures relating to the animal. It was good to see a map of animal occurrence on some of the pages as well as “useful facts” and the information is quite detailed and helpful if you were writing an animal essay for school. Loading time for the pages was medium, not ultra fast, but considering the amount of images and html information contained, the loading time was reasonable.

Conclusion

Animal Corner is a fine example of a children’s website set in html code – with a few extra tricks to help the viewing experience remain interesting throughout. My suggestions to improve the site would include removing the date (it’s unnecessary information), standardising the logo size and navigation and maybe removing the “Ads by Google” up the top. Well done to the little battler who worked hard on this website – they sure put in a full day’s work!

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fig 1. Wildlife circle bar & ads for Google

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fig 2. Animal Corner logo

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fig 3. Colour scheme on Pets page

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fig 4. Alligator starburst – good navigation for kids

Parents Find Sitters And Students Find Work

Introduction

The Sitter Cafe website communicates a large amount of information well and is worth a visit. The concept “Where Parents find Sitters and Students find Work” is a valuable asset to the online community.

Form and Function

The first page loads up quickly and contains a logo/image area in the middle of the page, physician surrounded by white space, prostate a design commonly used for site “gateways”. I was pleasantly surprised that the website behind the gateway was so comprehensive, given the spacious appearance of the front page. There is a lot of information included within, but it is laid out in a logical and easy-to-follow manner, with left aligned text, small paragraphs and the effective use of subheadings making the text more attractive to read.

Inside, the website appears like a frameset, but is actually hand coded with nested tables combined with CSS.

The navigation within The Sitter Cafe is refreshingly simple and relies upon one easy-to-find navigational menu bar with buttons linking to the individual pages. Other coloured spaces on both left and right sides contain advertising and the viewer can ignore this if they choose, especially since the ads are in complimentary colours to the design. I really liked the idea of having the advertising material relevant to the site concept.

Colours used within the site are mostly light and dark blue. These complement the logo in a striking way. A purple logo containing cute stick-figures of kids, and wording for “The Sitter Cafe in blue and pink work well colourwise, but the logo image and text need to be blended a bit more (and moved closer together) to give the impression of a whole.

The top banner contains the wording – “Where Parents find Sitters & Students find Work” (a most effective heading) along with the logo and some faded photos of sitters and kids. The faded photos detract from the top banner and might be better if placed (unfaded) in the main text area, to interest the viewer when reading.

Conclusion

Overall, The Sitter Cafe is a great website to visit, with a lot of thought put into it. A few very minor changes could improve the viewing experience, but this website is almost there. The only real concern is the loading time, which could deter some sitters and jobseekers. However, the huge amount of information contained therein is well communicated and easily navigated – well done to the designers!

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Wow Website

Introduction

Lego.com is a reputed online toy store and community website with very handsome traffic. The journey throughout website is exciting and I am sure many kids will be attracted by it.

Form

At a first glance, the website looks very cool, giving the user a pleasant impression. Flash animation is part of the website, although the website is still loading very fast. The logo and graphics look awesome and striking. Anyone can understand what they are trying to say and the service that they are providing.

Lego.com brand is uniform throughout the website. The top menu is consistent for each and every web pages, providing a cool surfing experience. Relevant colorful icons are used in the top menu to enhance the navigation system. The web site is designed for English and Deutsch version and it looks extra-ordinary on each and every page.

Overall, the design is clean and neat. Creative Images and colorful icons drive the theme of the site. Flash Animation on the homepage shows that the website is updated on a regular basis.

The color balance is good and very effective for catching the user’s attention especially for kids. All the images are optimized very well and the positioning of each images are planned properly.

Function

The Navigation system looks very nice, but from SEO point of view, it is not suggested to use images in the navigation system. Alt tag is not used on images. But, other than that, it is awesome.

– The Quick links enhances the navigation system. It provides all the necessary links to user with different topics like products, club, shop and legoland.

– The Powerful search facility provides easy solution for users to find stuffs on website. There are 2 search boxes, one on top and the other at the bottom section of the site.

There are 2 sections on their homepage that are reserved for product promotion. The Featured product is packaged in an attractive flash animation, which is update regularly. “What’s New” is a section that includes promotional news with images and links which is again, another good example of product promotion.

Conclusion

Lego.com is very nice and the most professional looking website I ever seen. The navigation system is easy to understand, images and flash animation is extra-ordinary, simply awesome. If I were to give a rating to it, I would say 10 out of 10!

Interesting Website for Kids

Introduction

PBSKids.org is a great website for children full of games, drugstore stories, health music, and more. It features links to all of the great children’s programs on the PBS television station.

Form and Function

The website is a cheerful combination of playful circles and bright colors (Fig. A). The prominent PBS Kids logo appears in the upper left and features a rollover effect when placing the mouse over the text links to the right. The rounded squares near the middle of the page provide a simple contrast to the circular images above them and help them stand out as the four main links to fun for the children. The rectangular appearance near the bottom holds links provided for adults and parents and creates a dividing line between the main choices for the kids and the more technical information for adults at the bottom of the page. The contrast of circles and rectangles successfully keeps the eyes drawn toward the upper half of the page where the fun is.

While the main page is simple and playful, the lower contrast of the light purple portion of the background against the white text links makes these links more difficult to read (Fig. B).

Navigation from the main page is simple, either choose a show from the list of links on the left, which take you to sites designed specifically for that particular TV show, or choose from the four links near the middle of the page to present a selection of activities grouped by task. The pages linked to the four main options are also linked together in a linear fashion, however the linear structure only moves forward. While the images on these pages are cute, there is nothing to describe what they link to (Fig. C). The pages rely on the image “alt” text to appear as a tooltip when the mouse is placed over the image as the only means of describing what the image links to. A better practice would be to include descriptive text under the image rather than making the user mouseover each image to find out where it leads.

While the lack of descriptive links and low contrast text hinder ease of navigation, the overall presentation of the site is fun and playful. The design elements are appropriately geared toward the site’s intended audience. The PBS Kids website is a great launchpad to explore all the fun each individual TV show provides.

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