links for 04 August 2006

how do we *feel* about these re-designs? (Technorati & News.com.au)

News.com.au

Two redesigns went live whilst I was mostly offline that particularly caught my attention, for quite different reasons. They are news.com.au and Technorati. From what I’ve read there’s been mixed opinions (of course)… so I’m interested to hear what you think of them.

Obviously it’s going to help if you’ve seen the previous incarnations of these sites. The News example is a fairly logical progression from the previous design, where as Technorati is quite a significant departure from the previous design.

Technorati Redesign

Both of these redesigns where unexpected when I first saw them, and with both of them I had a very definite ‘gut reaction’. I *really* liked the changes that the guys at News have made to their site. I really *don’t* like the changes that Technorati have made.

I’ve found it interesting in evaluating these two designs that this initial and quite emotional reaction is the one that has stayed with me. Yes, I’ve read all the comments from devestated News.com.au readers who don’t like the change, and particularly from those still using 800×600 who now have the joys of horizontal scrolling introduced to their daily online news experience… (that was a pretty silly oversight or decision). Similarly, I’ve heard people praise the cleaner, simpler, easier to navigate site that is Technorati.

None of these arguments are going to move me one inch, because my reaction is so irrational and emotional. The new News site makes me feel warm, the Technorati site leaves me cold (literally).

I think Australian’s can be pretty proud of the way that our main news sites are designed (the other example to check out is the Sydney Morning Herald… yes, they look quite similar, that’s a recent development). I find both of these sites do what I want news sites to do – let me scan and see if there’s something that interests me, but also present interesting stuff to me in a way that looks interesting and engaging. Hey, lots of the time I don’t know what’s interesting…!

Last year there was a bunch of hype around the redesign of the New York Times. It’s frequently put forward as the benchmark for online news. For me, I’d take SMH or News.com.au anyday. I think the NY Times is a bit of a mess… a visual overload with way too much on the page and way to little by way of hierarchy.

One of the great online disappointments, I think, is The Guardian’s website. This newspaper has the most gorgeous design in hard copy, but a very uninspiring online presence. So much so that I’ve actually just organised to have the paper delivered to my door every morning, and I rarely look online for news. (Although, I do still jump onto SMH and News.com.au every now and then).

Technorati I never really used a lot and there were usually only two reasons for me to visit – to do a search on a tag to see who else was blogging about something I was just about to blog on, and the occasional rankings checking that every blogger is guilty of. The previous design of Technorati was never something you’d get over excited about. You could find your way around, but it wasn’t particularly fun. Or pretty. Say what you will though, it did have it’s own unique character, Technorati looked like Technorati, you knew where you where.

On my first visit to Technorati after the redesign, I was pretty certain I was in the wrong place. Surely this is the site of a web 2.0 project in private beta who haven’t yet got the funding to find anyone who’s really very interested in design. This isn’t a finished version is it? You see… no matter how ‘clean’ Technorati is, it’s also unpolished and bland. I get no pleasure from looking at that site anymore. Not even to check my ranking.

Nope, I’m not going to evaluate these sites from an information architecture perspective or an interaction design perspective or even a usability perspective today. This is a post about gut feel. I feel really proud of the team who designed news.com.au and really disappointed with Technorati. These feelings influence my user experience and impact my usage behaviour. Rationalise it however you like – the gut reaction counts.

Thoughts, feelings anyone? :)

links for 02 August 2006

the challenges of migrating & good experience design

20 Meg Broadband

A funny thing happens when you migrate to London. You lose your past. Or at least so it seems in many situations. Try to lease a flat to live in and you’ll need six months credit history in the UK and references from UK landlords. Real Estate agents are legally required to pay no heed to credit histories from other countries, or lovely references from your last landlord. They just don’t count. You can, however, pay 6 months rent in advance to secure a flat. (Yes, that’s six months… crazy stuff).

Try getting a bank account, and again, there is a legally required disposition to regard you as a potential money launderer and/or terrorist, unless you can show evidence of residence in the UK – preferably in the form of a drivers license, or a utility bill. Neither of which you will get without a flat that you own or rent, which you’ll probably not get without a bank account.

Want a mobile phone – for the first six months you’re pretty much stuck with ‘pay as you go’ – unless you can find a nice mobile phone dealership who are willing to be flexible with the truth. You’ll need a bank account and credit record here too. Even then they might require you to pay a large deposit.

I’ve been trying to get broadband on at home recently (you can get 8Meg broadband over here – I’m dying to try *real* broadband!). Of course, all the same problems are repeated and I’m being treated again like a person with a dodgy credit record until – amazingly and completely out of the blue – a man from TeleWest (who I’m trying to get my connection with) calls me and says that he specialises in looking after people who have just moved to the country and I’m to send him a copy of my *Australian* bank statement to prove my previous *Australian* address and he’ll look after my application and get me connected as soon as possible.

*massive sigh of relief*

We’ve been here almost a month now, trying to get our lives set up, and we did some research in advance to help make the bank situation not quite so dire as it might be, but it’s still been an informative experience.

I couldn’t find any stats on how many people move to London every year, but it must be tens of thousands. Tens of thousands of people having this terrible experience every year. I doubt it’s much better in other cities either.

Now, I know that there are issues that go well beyond ‘good experience’ that form the background of some of these examples, but this is no reason to just shrug our shoulders and say ‘well, that’s just the way it is’. These challenges create great opportunities for companies who are interested in good experience to differentiate themselves and capture market share (as well as making some stressed out people very happy!).

Creating good experience is a state of mind. Instead of seeing roadblocks like these as a reason to wash our hands of the responsibility for good experience, we should sit up, gather around, and workshop ways that we can turn bad experience to good.

It’s true for ‘real life’ experience like London banks and telcos, and it’s true for us as we design good experience online. Except instead of money laundering, consumer credit acts, and money laundering concerns, we have dodgy technical environments, aging hardware, and marketing departments.

It’s a challenge, yes, but that’s why we love it :)

Do you have any good ‘online’ examples where you (or others) have overcome a potential roadblock like this to achieve, against all odds, a good user experience?

Photo Credit: Phlzy at Flickr