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Monday, May 08, 2006

Snazzy web design: three!

Here's another step up on the fancy-site-o-meter: Trek's site.

Compared to the sites reviewed previously, this site is very slick. Clearly a lot of money goes to paying designers to make this site look nice. The pages are all heavily laden with photos of people using Trek's wonderful line of products and many of the features rely on Flash for a presentation about the great technology.

So, assume we're a user with a fast connection, modern browser, and Flash. Further suppose we want to learn about Trek's mountain bike selection. From the main page, we select "USA". Then it prompts for a language for some reason – are there lots of "FRANÇAIS" speakers in the States? The main page has a lot of options, but we find "MOUNTAIN" eventually, despite the Flash ad blaring above the site. So we make it to the mountain bike page, and the Flash box blinks white and there's some cool guy jumping through the dirt. That's nice, but we want a bike. Dragging over "HARDTAIL" makes the guy flicker away without warning, replaced by a loading bar- wait, now we moved the cursor away, and the guy's back! That guy sure is stubborn!


See, this is not an good design. This site is doing a great job of presenting lots of people kicking ass on Trek products. There are other ways to navigate besides this Flash disaster: I could pull down the list and try to navigate to a good-sounding mountain bike model. Unfortunately there are ~200 bikes in this list and it's hard to find mountain bikes when there's no particular organization. The page also has a zillion other links, including several screens' worth of columns and other stuff I don't care about. But if I'm perceptive, I'll notice the links to bike types, and click, say, "Hardtail". (Many curious users don't know what a hardtail is, but we'll ignore that for the moment.)

This is great progress: we're nearly at the part where they tell you about the bikes! But this part is really pretty lousy for browsing. It's great at listing the ultra-specifics of a certain model, but for someone naive to Trek's line it's trouble. You can click "OVERVIEW" but it's pretty useless, only telling you the price ranges of each line of bike. What if you want to learn more about the models in general? You can click on each model line, which is organied by the material used to build the frame, but each page says basically the same thing, "This line is has great bikes!"

All the individual bike pages will tell me is the specific parts in each bike. And it's good that I can learn all about the shifters and headsets and lug nuts, but how important is that for the causal browser? Especially for someone browsing the low-end models, some information about its strengths, or a link to a review, or anything would be good. It's a shame there's really nothing for this type of user, who should have been considered more carefully by the team working on this site. If the user gets curious enough to click on Technology > Hardtail, he is treated to a big choppy animation about how great hardtails are, and a lot of power chords. Actually, that brings me to my last point.

This site really, really, really does not need to use Flash. Designers love it because it allows for all kinds of fancy animations and slick transitions; neither one of these things enhances the website's usability at all. Flash is used on this site for insulting the user with promotions on top of hyperbolic blathering about everything Trek makes. It dramatically reduces flexibility – oh, you wanted to open that link in a new tab? – and generally gets in the way, as in the rotating ads on the mountain page discussed earlier.

The people who designed this website shot themselves in the foot. This is a very flashy site with a lot of attention paid to showing off people being cool and saying Trek bikes are awesome. But that doesn't really do anything; as studies show, consumers are increasingly immune to advertising, especially via such blatant means. Despite the fancy technology and the huge amounts of work that went into it, this is still a poorly-designed, frustrating site. The casual user isn't going to slog through this giant site to find what he wants; he's just going to look up the competition instead.