Different, good and bad

Sunday 7 March 2010

One of the challenges in building web sites is coming up with interesting ways of presenting functionality that aren't the same old thing, but are still usable. I came across two sites recently that met this challenge, one well, one badly.

Glyde lets you buy and sell books and DVDs, kind of a cross between Amazon and eBay. Their site is clean and elegant, and although they've chosen a number of unusual presentation techniques, everything works intuitively, sometimes better than you expect.

The home page shows a single horizontal list of popular items. Click one, and you get detail, but the image glides smoothly from its place in the list to the detail box that pops up. Type in the search box, and you get instant feedback in a drop-down list, but it's a complex categorized list that looks more like a product list than a drop-down. Wait around on the page without doing anything, and the horizontal list will scroll along by itself, offering more items for you to consider.

The whole site has a crisp well-thought-out design that's a pleasure to use.

On the other hand, I found HBO's site a confusing mess. The whole thing is in Flash, so it's difficult to link to individual pages. The schedule grid pops up as a window on the page, and then confounds me at every turn. The current time is displayed on a scroll thumb, which confusingly has arrows on it. Click the arrows, and the entire grid is replaced with a spinner progress wheel, and re-displays. Except the time hasn't changed. You have to drag the thumb, but no matter how little you drag it, the entire window refreshes rather than smoothly scrolling, so you have to re-orient yourself each time. The scroll bar has other times and dates displayed on it, but those aren't clickable either, they're just positions you can drag the thumb to.

Click into a particular show, and the description is displayed in too-small an area, requiring scrolling, except there are no scroll bars. Turns out if you hover over the description, it will start scrolling, but you can't control the speed or direction, it just moves. Maybe moving the cursor out of the description will stop it so I can read it? No, that resets the text back to its top position.

Even when playing videos, I'm confused. There's a progress bar that reads 0% when I'm part-way through the clip, and the middle third of the bar is highlighted. The entire site looks to me like a highly-paid designer made a pile of gorgeous Photoshop files, and never considered the dynamic interactions on the site.

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