When I last discussed our Dell.com home page here, I said that we would not be going forward with the page we had beta tested last year due primarily to an issue with findability. A recent look at HP’s new home page design, however, presents a good opportunity to look at some of the other problems we identified with our test page, and to update you on how we continue to look for improvements to our page.
If you followed me on Twitter back in February, you might have seen me note some similarities between the design we thought about last year and the one that HP was beta testing at the beginning of this year.
I tried to find something about it on HP’s blogs to see what their thought processes were behind the new look. After all, they face the same challenge we do of trying to craft one page to suit a wide variety of customers – from individuals to large corporations. But, the only thing I found in the web design category was a brief note in January that mentioned they were testing the page.
At least one author on the WebGuild Blog thinks it “missed the mark … by over-designing and foregoing usability.” He noted that the segment navigation panels popup after a delayed mouseover, which is an issue we identified in our beta page as being very annoying to our users. He calls out three links that have no mouseover effect and on mouseover automatically take you to pages without you clicking. We had a similar functionality in our beta page and found that users reacted very negatively to the feeling of being taken to a new page without choosing to do so by clicking.
He also lists as a negative the fact that the page scrolls down “beneath the fold”. This is still a bit of an ongoing debate in web design, and something Milissa Tarquini at AOL calls a myth. We found from our beta page usability testing that if the main navigation was above the fold, users were “ok” with it. Getting all the main navigation above the fold was very important to our users, however, and was another reason we did not push our last beta design.
All of these, plus the findability issue led us to make a call to pull back from the direction we were going last year. That didn’t mean we stopped looking for improvements, however. You may have noticed some subtle changes to our current page design. We’ve been adding a bit more color and style variety to the rotating banners, and in the U.S. we are trying the addition of navigation elements that let you control the rotation. These are only minor adjustments, though. The really big stuff is still out there to come.
We’ve taken the lessons learned last year and started working on new ideas to make it that much easier and faster to navigate from the home page of Dell.com to what you really came for. We’re looking hard at traffic patterns on the current page to make sure the top things our visitors seek can be easily found. And, while segmentation of customers might not go away all together, we are trying new ideas to simplify it for you and make it as invisible as possible.
The feedback you gave us last year spoke clearly against some of the design elements that HP’s new page incorporates. Rather than follow the competition, we will keep our focus on what our customers tell us they want. Watch for a chance to provide input on something totally new soon!