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Archive for February, 2009

Design and Usability of the New Fox8.com Homepage

February 25, 2009 1 comment

Watching the morning news a few days ago the anchors kept promoting their new site, Fox8.com formerly MyFoxCleveland.com . I forgot about it for a few days, but I’ve had a chance to visit it several times now and I wanted to give a brief analysis of the new homepage from a design and (basic) usability standpoint. At DigitalDay we’re working on a comprehensive analysis tool for judging the effectiveness and quality of sites, but while that’s still being produced we’ll look at the site on a basic level.

Although not design related, the new URL is a significant improvement. The station brands itself as ‘Fox8’ on nearly all materials I’ve ever seen, so it makes sense that they’ve moved to this shorter and easier to read designation.

Overall Design

Fox8 homepage

Fox8 homepage

When the page loads, a couple things come to mind. The page loads quickly on a decent connection, which is good, and at first glimpse the site doesn’t seem nearly as cluttered as most tv station web sites, especially small to medium market stations. The background graphic is extremely compressed (probably an effort to save bandwidth…but the design could be more abstract so the compression artifacts weren’t so prominent). Unfortunately the site was not built with large monitors in mind.

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The background graphic fades to a solid blue, so they could have easily made the body background the same blue – white gradient for a seamless transition. I realize my monitor is wider than the average users, but it’s the little details that make decent designs good, and good designs great. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the deep blue and red color scheme, but that’s their palette and they’ve embraced it fully.

Typography

Fox8.com uses a simple sans-serif typographic system. Lucida Grande is the main font, and while I love Lucida, it’s disappointing to see that they didn’t specify Lucida Sans Unicode as the Windows alternative (Lucida Grande is ubiquitous on Macs but rarely found on Windows machines).

menucomparison1

Instead the font stack moves to Tahoma, which has very tight kerning when bolded and lowers the readability on the main menu in particular. Unfortunately this is the way most users will be seeing the site.

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Section headers are images, but I question if that’s really necessary since they seem to simply be white Arial bold text with a heavy drop shadow. Was the shadow really that necessary? If you’re going to use images for headers, you should get as much aesthetic and branding benefit as possible.

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Fox8’s type has several spacing issues as well. In boxes like the Popular Stories feature, there is not enough spacing between list items to clearly differentiate them. It’s also unnecessary that the text in boxes like Offbeat News extends to the very edge of the box it inhabits (spacing between list items would be very beneficial here as well). A little padding would not only look much better, it’s used in other sections like Featured Links, and would be a consistent style.

Usability

From a basic usability standpoint, there are a couple of red flags on the Fox8 site. First, in the main news section stories are cycled through, but there is no active state. An indicator of which story is currently being featured would be a welcome addition. Similarly, I would avoid relying on a rollover to indicate what is a link. A user should be able to easily determine what’s a link and what is not without having to rollover it. Combine that with the inconstent link styling on the site (sometimes they’re blue, sometimes black, sometimes blue is not a link, but blue/bold is) and you have a confusing system that could be much simpler and more usable.

Conclusion

I struggle when seeing sites like Fox8. It’s a mediocre at best site redesign that could be significantly better. They have made improvements and are headed in the right directions, but in areas like basic usability and typography they could improve so much with such simple changes. I’ll take a look again in a few months and see if things have changed.

Silverlight, DeepZoom, ever so shiny

February 12, 2009 Leave a comment

At last year’s Mix conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft made it very clear that they were playing for keeps with Silverlight, their platform for building “rich Internet applications” within the browser. They showed an early version of the engine they’d use with NBC to stream Olympic coverage, lots of it, and developers were in awe.

While the video and user interface and video capabilities were cool, people were even more impressed with the DeepZoom demonstration that was used for the Hard Rock Memorabilia site. DeepZoom is way of breaking up huge images into smaller chunks and allowing the user to zoom in deeper and deeper. The memorabilia site actually has some “easter eggs” in it, images within images. Find Paul McCartney’s letter, and in that you’ll find several restaurant images, which in turn has another image in it.

After nearly a year, Silverlight 2 was finally released, and so far it’s enjoying around 20% penetration. For this year’s conference, they’ve launched A Website Named Desire, which further demos DeepZoom and some of the ways you can get really involved with it. It talks about something near and dear to my heart as Digital Day’s technical architect… process!

Aside from all of the eye candy that Silverlight can enable, one of its greatest strengths from a developer standpoint is its ability to push rich user experiences via the browser. The potential for line-of-business applications is huge, and in my mind, makes a normal Windows application obsolete (not to mention it will work on a Mac as well). There is no installing, no version or updating issues, just a Web browser. We’re already looking at our line up of projects and looking for appropriate uses in this area.

I’ll be attending Mix again this year, and I’m interested to see what they plan to spring on us!

Categories: Web Design Tools

New FTC Guides on Endorsements and Testimonials Affect Online Marketers

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

A recent article by attorney John Feldman, Partner at Reed Smith, reports on the FTC’s stricter and more transparent rules that will soon govern the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising. Of course, these new guidelines will affect online marketers, too.

Highlights of the changes from Feldma’s article “Watch What You Say” include:

  • Disclaimers such as “Results not typical” or “Your results may vary” may no longer be enough to protect advertisers against regulatory scrutiny.
  • Advertisers are subject to liability if they do not disclose a material connection that exists between themselves and their endorsers.
  • A celebrity’s financial connection to the advertiser must be disclosed in the context of a routine interview if he or she makes an endorsement.
  • For consumer testimonials, an advertiser cannot pay or otherwise compensate a person to give an endorsement without disclosing the material connection.

According to Feldman, this will specifically impact how marketers leverage blogging as a marketing tactic: “Bloggers who receive compensation—or even free products from advertisers—may now have to disclose that connection with the advertiser if they provide a positive review of those products.”

Which all reminds me of the greatest advertising song every written. Your results may vary.

Full Disclosure: John Feldman is legal counsel to TAAN, the international ad agency network of which DigitalDay is a member.

CPG Brand Colors – Why is Diet always so boring?

February 10, 2009 4 comments

Head to the soda (pop, whatever) aisle of your local supermarket and take a look around. It makes for a fascinating study in branding, color trends, and CPG marketing in general.

Recently, I noticed something obvious, yet never really discussed. For each brand or flavor of soda, there is a distinct color, logo, and tone in design. With each brand’s diet flavor though every brand I could find did the exact same thing – took the normal style, and made it grey. They took out the color, desaturated the packaging, or just generally swapped neutral colors in for the bright bold colors the regular brands get. Some examples:

Comparison of regular and diet soda cans

Comparison of regular and diet soda cans

Is that really the best that millions of dollars ad budgets and legions of designers, art directors, marketing people, and brand managers can come up with? It gives you the distinct impression that the diet version will be a blander, less fun, less bold version of the regular. I understand you want to retain the value of the original, but surely there’s value in distinguishing the diet flavor as its own product, not simply to be a watered down, less interesting version of the regular?

Let’s see some originality here; there’s no rule (I’ve ever seen at least) that says diet soda has to look and feel just like regular soda. Give it a brand, give it its own personality! From my experience the consumer who regularly purchases diet soda may not even be interested in the regular version. Should they not be engaged and treated as well as the consumer interested in the regular equivalent?

How to Make Flash SEO-Friendly

February 7, 2009 Leave a comment

The team here at DigitalDay is about to embark on a Flash-heavy website design and we want to make sure we’re minimizing any negative SEO impact.

In doing a little research, Dina, one of our designers found this article:

5 Steps for Building a SEO-Friendly Flash Site Using SWFObject and SWFAddress

The article outlines the following steps:

  1. Use SWFObject
    SWFObject is that it allows you to serve Flash to people who can support it and (X)HTML to people who can’t. Also, search engine crawlers index the (X)HTML alternate content you serve, meaning that if you put your content in there, it will get indexed.
  2. Create HTML pages for each of your flash pages
    For each of your Flash pages (home, about us, contact us, etc.), create an HTML page that mirrors its content. That means all the text, all the links, all the pictures, etc.  This will allow search engine crawlers to make proper sense of the content on the site.
  3. Use SWFObject and multiple Flash files to hide the content
    So you have all these pages, but you don’t want anyone who can support Flash to SEE them – only search engines. That’s where SWFObject comes in. On each of these HTML pages, you will use SWFObject to embed the same Flash file, but have the non-Flash content reflect the HTML you built.
  4. Use SWFAddress and deep linking to direct Flash users to the proper content
    SWFAddress allows you to read information from the URL and then use that within your Flash. The most common reason for doing this is to be able to do deep linking in Flash.
  5. Add a JavaScript call using SWFAddress to direct your Flash to the right section
    This helps direct users who come from a search engine to the right content within your Flash.

DigitalDay’s Internal SEO Strategy Pays Off

February 4, 2009 1 comment

Over two years ago, when I did a Google search for “Cleveland Web Design” my agency, DigitalDay, showed up on the 8th page, ranking around #84. Hardly effective.

We immediately began an effort to optimize our website and implement organic search engine marketing tactics to move up in the rankings. Even though we’re a national agency with clients all over the country, we decided to aim for geographically qualified keywords focusing on Cleveland and extending out to all of Ohio.

For some phrases, the more narrow, we quickly landed on the first page. For “Cleveland Web Design,” it’s taken almost two years but last week we made it clocking in at #8. I’ll attach a screen capture in case it changes.

Here’s a list of the phrases we targeted and our current Google Results Ranking:

#8 — “cleveland web design

#2 — “cleveland web design agency

#2 — “cleveland online marketing

#3 — “akron web design agency

#144 — “ohio web design” (we need to work on this)

#10 — “ohio web design agency

#7 — “ohio online marketing agency

This works paid off not only in demonstrating our SEO skills, but it got us invited to pitch a large consumer brand near Cleveland in November last year — and we won the business.

Google Search Results for the terms "cleveland web design" on February 3, 2009.

Google Search Results for the terms "cleveland web design" on February 3, 2009.