Back in October Damian Proctor (Redweb’s Head of Design) and I were asked by Web Designer Magazine to pick a website that we felt represented ‘bad’ design, explain why and offer up a solution of how we’d improve it.
We didn’t want to choose something obvious or easy. We wanted to challenge ourselves by picking a website that was well known within the UK, on some level successful and then look to improve upon it. We’re both strong advocates of the adage ‘good designers redesign, great designers realign’ so wanted to show how our chosen design could be iteratively changed to best meet the needs of its users rather than just redesigning it based on an emotional response to aesthetics. We recorded the process we went through to highlight each iteration and help us to write about it later!
With Damian responsible for the visual design I took lead on the user experience and UI design. The split in responsibilities and iterative approach seemed to suit a blog post double bill, starting with this one which covers our initial thoughts through to a new prototype UI. Damian has then taken up the baton and run flat out to the finish line leaving tales of visual design, brand development and our final solution in his tracks. No doubt his post over at Randomapricot will be far better than my atrocious metaphor!
Picking a bad design
Having asked friends, family and the wonderful world of Twitter to come up with suggestions we settled on what we felt was the ideal example of a bad yet successful website, enter MoneySavingExpert.com.
According to Hitwise MoneySavingExpert has been the number 1 UK Business & Finance website since 2006. This year it ranked as the 100th most visited website in the UK whilst the forum ranked as the 10th most popular social network. It receives over 7.5 million unique visitors a month, supports 25 full-time staff and annually raises over £100k for charity, in fact raising enough money that they’ve setup their own charity just to handle the administration of the money, and yet this is all achieved without displaying adverts or charging users.
With 3 million email subscribers and over 1/2 million forum members they have a social obligation to make the site perform as efficiently as possible. Its clear that there is a large and active community around the site but the design is flawed enough that it hinders rather than helps its users. In effect MoneySavingExpert is successful in spite of its design.
Clarifying the proposition
In their own words MoneySavingExpert’s proposition is to “save you money on anything and everything by finding the best deals and beating the system… based on detailed journalistic research and cutting edge tools.” They do this through several channels, the main being a weekly email.
The proposition is nowhere near clear enough, the importance of the email is lost amongst the crowded design and confused by the heaviness of content. Similarly the unique way in which they’re funded isn’t immediately apparent.
Simplicity and reducing noise
Following our initial research we wanted to show that with minimal effort we could noticeably and positively impact on the design. One of the biggest problems we faced was the amount of visual noise cluttering the design. with this in mind ambiguous icons and unnecessary graphical elements were removed, the usability of basic elements (such as calls to action) were enhanced and all instances of repetitive content were taken out. Instantly the design seemed cleaner and clearer as well as giving us a better idea of what we had to work with, what content and functionality we had to focus on and how far we could push the design.
Improving structure and layout
noise Once the initial clean up was complete we soon realised that, intentionally or not, the design was roughly built on a five column grid. Our first iteration was tweaked to fit and the foundations of our design started to take shape. I also took the opportunity to further improve the layout. Graphical text was replaced, the number of colours used reduced and primary navigation simplified.
Back to the drawing board
With the content stripped back and a basic structure applied, I switiched to my trusty layout pad and started sketching out new solutions. To help retain familiarity with the existing design I kept the prominent right column and grid system but made it more focused by dividing up the content based on whether it was financial advice or related to the site itself (e.g. about Martin Lewis, how MSE is funded). The latter, being less important, was placed within the right column so as not to distract from the main content.
MoneySavingExpert is described not as a website with an email, but more an e-mail with a website, with this in mind I treated email subscription as a primary function so moved it away from the right column and placed it in a more prominent position.
Global elements were next on my agenda. Search was moved up into the header and the primary navigation made more consistent by subtly changing things like the labels, order and spacing.
Within the main body money saving features were grouped together and placed below the email signup to help reinforce the benefits of subscription and support regular visitors looking for the latest financial advice.
Martin Lewis, the man behind MSE, has written several money saving books all of which can be purchased via the site. As the proceeds go straight to charity they were worth highlighting but not at the expense of the sites main objectives so they were placed together below the financial advice and offers. Beneath the book shop went any additional supporting content such as free tools and the visitor poll.
Although it seemed like I’d made loads of changes to the wireframe it still felt familiar.
A new visual design
Once happy with the wireframe I handed across to Damian to work on the visual design. Part 2 of this post explains Damian’s approach and reveals the final design. Read part 2 on Randomapricot now.
But before you go, I’d love to hear what you think. Better? worse? Rubbish approach? Please feel free to leave a comment, as always any feedback is really appreciated.