Google’s Web Browser: Chrome – not quite there yet

October 24th, 2008 Ethan Stemm

Back on September 2nd, Google released the web browser called Chrome. Touted as a “modern platform for web pages and applications,” Chrome was quickly downloaded and put to use by webmasters and users eager to test this new browser. The initial usage numbers indicated that Chrome was well on its way to becoming a hit and Insight Designs began to consider what this could mean for current and future web development.

Now, seven weeks later, the early exuberance for Chrome has waned and has been replaced by a more realistic view of this new browser. While Google’s Chrome does provide an interesting start to the next evolution of the web browser, Chrome’s large number of bugs, frequent crashes and a lack of differentiation as compared to the more popular browsers has resulted in a decline in usage numbers and return by users to IE7 and Firefox. Google has since cut back on the marketing of Chrome and is now focusing on improvements.

What can we learn from Chrome’s story?

  1. Beware the hype. Chrome was released with great fanfare and promise but quickly failed to achieve expectations. It is always a good idea to use the resources of the Internet and find independent comments and test results for any new technology.
  2. Change takes time and while the internet may speed up the developmental cycle of a new technology, we should practice patience and make sure it works before integrating into our processes.
  3. Any new browser will be compared to the current browsers and since people are more comfortable using what they know, the new browser will need to offer something new to appeal to the user. This is a good rule to apply to any new web technology.
  4. Google is expanding and looking to move beyond being just a way to search the web.

A web browser is a vital component to how many of us access and use the web. In order to ensure all users can view a webpage as it was intended, Insight Designs will test a site on multiple browsers including IE6, IE7, Firefox 3 and AOL 9 on PCs, and Firefox 2, AOL 10 and Safari 3 on Macs. We haven’t added Chrome to the list — yet.

Posted in Web Design, Web Technology | 1 Comment »

Vampire Rides

October 23rd, 2008 Nico Toutenhoofd

Kris Thompson, who happens to work for one of our clients Home & Abroad, is a cycling fanatic who faithfully maintains a Boulder area bicycling blog 303cycling.com. Kris recently joined me on one of my early morning training rides and wrote a fun story about his experience. If anyone is interested in what I do before coming into the office here at Insight Designs, check out his “Vampire Rides” story on 303cycling.com.

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The web – where we are, where we’re going, people to watch

October 16th, 2008 Beth Krodel

At a recent In-house Insight, I gave a presentation on the future of the web. I thought you, our blog readers, might like to read some of what I shared:

A few stats on where we are now:

  • As of January 2008, there were 156 million active websites (not including subdomains), according to Netcraft.
  • As of December 2007, 1.4 billion people used the Internet (that’s 21% of the global population). In North America, about 250 million people, or 73% of the population, used the Internet. For more on usage stats, see InternetWorldStats.com.
  • In 2007, the top two advertising mediums were newspapers, at $55.7 billion, and broadcast television, at $48.7 billion, according to private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson. But VSS estimates that by 2011, overall Internet advertising will become the largest advertising medium, at nearly $63 billion, describing the shift as “a watershed moment” in the media business. Learn more.

Some of the lesser known innovative movers and shakers worth keeping an eye on in the web world:

  • Matt Freeman is the founder and former CEO of Tribal DDB, which in January of this year became the first interactive agency to be named global agency of the year by Advertising Age. In June, Matt left Tribal DDB to become CEO of GoFish, a kid-focused media company and ad network. We’ll all be hearing his name again. Read more.
  • Shelly Palmer is the host of “MediaBytes,” a daily internet news show and blog with insightful commentary on the biggest stories in media, technology and entertainment (all of which are blurring into one by the minute, it seems). Palmer is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestow Emmy Awards). And he’s a pioneer in the field of Internet technologies. Check out his blog at shellypalmermedia.com.
  • David Pescovitz is co-editor of the popular weblog BoingBoing.net, a research director with the Institute for the Future, editor-in-large for MAKE and writer-in-residence for UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering. He co-wrote the book book “Reality Check,” based on his long-running forecasting column in Wired magazine where he remains a correspondent. He also has contributed to Scientific American, Popular Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, IEEE Spectrum, and many other publications. In 2002, he won the Foresight Prize in Communication, recognizing excellence in educating the public and research community about nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. This man knows his stuff. More: http://pesco.net/

A couple of good articles on where we’re headed:

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Is your website user-friendly?

October 9th, 2008 Ellie Childs

At Insight Designs, each month or so we host an In-house Insight, or knowledge share. Everyone in the office gathers for lunch and one of us makes a presentation on something we find interesting that we think the rest of the staff should know about, too. This week, I made a presentation on web usability. And I thought it was worth sharing with the outside world. Here’s an excerpt of my presentation:

Web Usability is important because it alone will determine the success or failure of a website. The visual design should be thought of as merely a means to deliver a message to the user.

There are plenty of sophisticated usability studies out there that involve a plethora of participants. Analysts study their moves and make recommendations for changes based on the mistakes the users made. It would be nice, but we obviously can’t do this for every site we make. However, there are plenty of things we can do to make our sites more user friendly.

For Instance, we can measure a user’s impression of a page using a quick “5-Second Test.” A few years ago, usability expert Christing Perfetti came up the with idea during the development of a site for Fidelity. Site creators wanted to see how users interpreted crucial content pages. The test has been used on many sites since. It’s a valuable test because it’s quick, easy to conduct and renders results immediately. It works like this:

1. Identify a critical page of content on a website
2. Show it to a user for only 5 seconds
3. After 5 seconds, remove the page and ask the user why they would use this page.

For example, the Red Cross would probably say the main goal of their website is to drive donations. So, let’s go to the donations page on the Red Cross site and conduct our own 5 second test.

Think: What would you use this page for? What does it tell you?
http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_options

In five seconds, users can identify exactly where they need to click in order to make many different kinds of donations. This clear list of links resulted in an increase in donations after the site was launched.

Cons of the five second test.
1. Doesn’t work for the home page. Mainly because it’s hard for the user to identify the essence of a company in 5 seconds. It would be better to use quick task-oriented tests on the homepage. For example, you would take the user to a home page and tell him to “sign up for a newsletter” or “get support for a printer problem” depending on the nature of the website.

2. Our biggest challenge to in-house usability testing is the learner affect. We are all so smart we all have a really good idea of where things are supposed to be and what they do.

Interesting fact: In 2004, about 40% of people visited a homepage and then drilled down to where they wanted to go and 60% use a deep link that took them directly to a page or destination inside a site. In 2008, said Dr Nielsen, only 25% of people travel via a homepage. The other 75% search and get straight there. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7417496.stm)

What can we do to make sure our sites are more usable? First and foremost, we can think about the user. Most usability issues arise from designs that are too complex. Less is almost always more from a usability standpoint. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice design.

For example, this shoe site got high usability ratings: http://shoeguru.ca/.

This design would be considered user-centric or product-centric, meaning the design of the site is based on the design of the product, which is clear to the user because there is nothing to fight for their attention. There are only a few navigation options and no dropdowns. There is a clear call to action at the bottom of the home page. Note: there is some debate in the usability world about the use of white text on a black background. This is usually not a good option for a site with a lot of copy. The Shoe Guru site doesn’t have too much copy, so the contrast works just fine.

Call-to-action statements are an increasingly important design element. Users are growing more impatient and don’t like to dig around a site to find what they are looking for. Satisficing. Users don’t tend to make optimal choices. They don’t read sequentially on the web either. Instead they satisfice. This means that as soon as they find a link that seems like it might lead to their goal, they click it immediately.  Call-to-actions prey on this instinct by making the choices clear.

By definition, a call to action is a statement on the site that tell the user what the website owner wants them to do. They are often words such as “Buy Now”, “Shop Now”, “Call Now”, “Subscribe Now”. They don’t always include the word Now, but they always convey an action.

In recent months, more people, including our clients, are aware of the impact of a call to action.
For example, I recently put one on Antler Art, Inc: http://www.antlerartinc.com/

I found another interesting one (“Shop Looks”) on J.Crew: http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Navigation/Women.jsp. Instead of just directing users to the product pages, it allows users to browse and buy an entire outfit. Amazon has been doing this for years, but it’s becoming more popular on other ecommerce sites as well.

As web developers, what can we make sure we are doing to increase usability? Since we don’t really have the means to conduct our own elaborate tests, we can do the next best thing use the information others have gathered.

I found a web design usability checklist that covers all the major elements of web usability.
http://stud.cmd.hro.nl/0773253/notusable/blog/the-ultimate-webdesign-usability-checklist/

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