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New layout = the suck.

Posted by ApochPiQ, 23 November 2005 · 197 views

Warning: whining and ranting ahead.

I'm going to have to register my complete and utter hatred of the new look. There seems to be a lot of "you're just not used to it yet" going around, which frankly (as far as I'm concerned) is crap. I'm a virtually certified change addict, and I hate this change. I'm the kind of person who rearranges all of my desktop icons and start menu shortcuts on a weekly basis. I refactor my projects recreationally, the way most people smoke or drink. Change is not a problem. Changing to s**t, however, is a problem, and we seem to have been afflicted by it. Powerfully.


Complaint 1: Drunk clowns and paint cans
Bright colors... cheezy blue-and-silver "theme"... icons that seem to have been taken into a back alley and violated repeatedly by the same sick freak that did the artwork for Windows XP... this thing has all the hallmarks of a weekend website project mucked together by some two-bit hack in his basement. I know that's not really the case, but it sure as heck feels like it.

I've always liked GDNet because it seemed like more than that - like something a bunch of dedicated, serious people got together, and really turned into something great. Now I feel like I'm posting on some mass-market cheapass spam repository. I've read the rationale from Khawk; frankly I don't buy it. Remembering things better because of colors? I'd think more about the validity of that concept, but my BS-o-meter is already overheating, and I'd hate to risk a meltdown.

Bottom line: silver and blue is the most overdone, pathetic cliche in the world of web theming. Period. I like sites with character and atmosphere. Now we have this godawful sterile, "professional" (oh freaking please), we're-scared-of-being-different conformist reek. It reminds me of corporate suits who crap their pants whenever anyone so much as thinks about challenging the status quo. I want to come here and be reminded of midnight coding marathons, of hackers striving in their lairs to push the frontiers of gaming... I don't want to be reminded of suits, ties, sport coats, and power lunches.


Complaint 2: #&#%!@ dropdown menus
I don't know why it is that "web designers" get so hot and bothered over dropdown menus. I f***ing hate them. HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE. They are stupid, pointless, and reek of whiz-bang fad-ism. They also inhibit my browsing style. I like to shift+click a lot of links and browse in multiple windows; dropdown, scripted menus preclude this in most cases. It's fairly rare in my experience for anyone to implement dropdown menus in a manner that handles this nicely. GDNet has now joined the ranks of Those Who Done It Wrong.

The usual excuse I hear for this pablum is that it "conserves vertical space." Dammit, people, scrollbars are your friends. This change didn't even do much for space; there's maybe 20 pixels saved over the old layout, at the expense of easy accessibility, and at the expense of having an efficient-looking layout. Every graphics designer in the world is crying over this right now.

Dropdowns are also "mystery meat navigation." This is BAD. Why is GDNet Gathering under Community and Jourals under Members? That's arbitrary, counter-intuitive, and just plain poor. The goofy column names from the old layout were excusable because the column names didn't obscure the content (links); the names didn't convey any useful information, so they could be ignored. Now, they both fail to convey useful information, and they both conceal the useful information while making it harder to access.

Please, guys, go buy some books on doing good web design (and good content design in general) and learn some things. Hiding your links under menus is NOT COOL, no matter how hip, trendy, and 21st century it makes you feel. Warm fad fuzzies do not compensate for a botched user experience.


Complaint 3: Bandwaggoning
This looks like every other forum engine out there now. That's not a good thing. I liked the GDNet forums because they were unique, different, self-made; they didn't stink of cookie-cutter freebie engines that someone downloaded and installed (without changing the theme) to run their Ub3r Aw3s0m3 INT4RW3BN3T SIT3.

More than anything else, this change feels like a bureaucratic conformalist wank. My honest impression is that someone in upper management can't get it up unless the product looks just like the competition, and God himself forbid that we show any gumption in being different. The problem is, I know that's not how GDNet works, and so I'm left confused as to how this horrible mistake was allowed to happen in the first place.

This is a different kind of site from any other, with different kinds of people and different content. Looking different was part of the old site's attitude, part of the experience. It said that we're here, we're not owned by billion-dollar media congolmerates, and we've got enough testicular fortitude to not have to copy everyone else's cliche designs.


Sure, a lot of people disliked the old look, and a lot of people so far seem to like the new look. So let's have some options here - and no, the www2 hack does not count, especially since it doesn't work.




I'm not so hot on the new theme myself; but regarding point 2 - our current system is pretty complex and so we've arranged everything into drop-down menus.
However, there is no* javascript in use - middle/shift+click works as it should as the menu links are plain HTML links (I use a modification of the Suckerfish style menu).
I wish the people working on the new design could switch to this system; our javascript menus took about 10 seconds to download and generate on each page. The CSS-driven version I replaced them with download instantly and don't break the browser functionality.

* There is a little javascript in use; it rewrites a couple of styles to 'fix' the lack of a proper :hover in IE as well as hide all dropdown boxes that would appear in front of the menus in IE. However, the script file is tiny and only downloaded if you are using IE.
Oh, sure, flyout elements have their place. However, there are some rules that I'd recommend for when and how to use them.

1. Make sure there is actually a benefit to flyouts. If you can sacrifice a tiny bit of space for much faster accessibility (e.g. one click on the desired link vs. waiting for the flyout, trying to find the link you want, and then clicking) then do so. The miniscule savings (~20 pixels in this case) does not justify the transition to flyouts.

2. Organize the hierarchy correctly. This would have been a perfect opportunity to rearrange the Features/Resources/Community/Members set that's been up there since Who Knows When. The new design missed a huge chance to actually make the hierarchy of items work. Instead, the hierarchy has become opaque and inhibits navigation, which means it has failed as a design choice.

3. Implement the hierarchy correctly. This means not using crappy solutions that inhibit expected browser functionality, when alternative solutions that work fine exist and are readily available. We've had mass-consumer web browsers for twelve goddamn years and we're still producing web content that inhibits the way browsers have worked since the Dawn of Time. That is frankly inexcusable.

I look at this new layout and see all of the poor design and accessibility decisions that I just spent a year removing from a game's legacy interface. My reactions are therefore probably a bit strong, but mostly because it's frustrating to see the same simple and needless mistakes crop up again and again in various places.
Regarding color choices (silver and blue is overdone).. Silver and blue and the rest of the colors you see here are our GameDev.net official colors. The old design did NOT match the logos, marketing materials, brochures, banners, and other items we have had for over 2 years now. No matter what it reminds you of, it IS our primary color scheme, and it has been that way for quite some time. The website is just now catching up because it's a bit more of a long term task to switchover.

Regarding top navigation menu.. I didn't want ANY navigation across the top, but other staff did with the reason being they didn't want the left navigation menu to be visible in the forums. The forums are the only location where you might want to use the top navigation links; otherwise, every other page has the left side menu.

Looks like every other forum engine out there? We didn't change anything but the CSS styles to our forums to match our GameDev.net official colors. Everyone's first reaction is to say that we look like phpBB or some other UBB knockoff, but the reality is that our forum software has been around for over 7 years with the capability to look exactly how it looks now. Given that, we are not copying others. We are simply unifying what we've already had.

What I'd like to hear is some suggestions on things like the categorization of navigational links and other items. I've heard plenty of complaining, but I have heard very few suggestions. The current categorization makes perfect sense to us - in your example of journals, why should they be under community? There is no community interaction in journals. It's a member feature. GDNet Gathering is under community because it is a community oriented feature, just like the forums. You can't have a gathering without a local community.

Anyway, the design is staying - with tweaks, as always, in the future.
From a pure marketing standpoint, I guess color changes make sense. The problem is, the vast bulk of the community here doesn't know about those materials (unless I've been missing out on something important for the last three years [grin]). To the web users, the site is GDNet, and so any external identity that may exist is at best secondary to the site itself.

The overall look is, admittedly, a very subjective thing. The problem is, the eye is lazy, and the memory is fuzzy. In my experience, color has a tremendously huge effect on perceptions of general form. For instance, the way posts are formatted here is quite different from stock PHPBB/et.al., but the light coloration makes it appear much more similar at a glance. Any graphic designer can tell you that color is easily the single biggest player in first-glance perception, and the wrong colors can actually obliterate other distinguishing features. In fact, knockoff brands capitalize on this all the time to make people "recognize" the package as a more familiar brand, while not noticing the distinctions - disctinctions which, in fact, are extremely obvious if you know to look for them, and give the knockoffs a legal loophole.

Sure the forum software has been capable of looking like this for years (I've been around here for a while - I know what it can do) but the important thing was it didn't look like this. Changing a brand identity is one of the most risky things one can do, because it will invariably be a polarizing move. There is very little middle ground in these cases; it's almost always either love or hate. This becomes especially problematic when the brand identity is split, as in GDNet's current case (site vs. other materials). For instance, I'll be damned if I had the slightest clue what the "official colors" were until I read your post. So while from one perspective the change is not only logical but in fact inevitable, from another perspective it came totally from left field, and as a rather unpleasant shock. My personal opinion is that silver and blue are also some of the most utterly cliche "official colors" in the history of colors, but apparently it's a bit late for that gripe [wink]


I'm supposed to be at work (well, I'm at work, but not doing much of it...) so I really can't get too involved with a suggested navigation layout, but here's a quickie off the top of my head:

Learn
  For beginners
  Articles/tutorials
  Columns
  Dictionary

Expand
  Jobs
  Reviews
  Books

Interact
  Forums
  Chat
  Contests

Share
  Showcase
  Journals
  Gathering
  Newsletter

Other Stuff
  Control panel
  GDNet+ signups
  Member search


The section header names are just the first things that came to mind, and could use some work; however, a more discrete and goal-oriented flow would help immensely. In general, design a menu hierarchy around what people want to do with your site, not necessarily how things are most logically categorized in terms of sets.


Anyways, as I said originally: options are your best friend. I feel kind of whorish bringing all of my points back to the same thing, but I speak from my experiences at Egosoft - sometimes the only way to really solve a hard decision is to let the end user make the decision themselves. In fact, we still offer the original forum theme there (from four years ago) for those who want to use it - and many still do. For them, that theme is the Egosoft forums, and no redesign can ever really replace it.

For the record, I'd switch to a dark theme in a heartbeat. The layout I can get accustomed to, eventually, but the color shift is just a bit of a dealbreaker. I have no problem continuing my GDNet+ subscription to access it, either.
Quote:

From a pure marketing standpoint, I guess color changes make sense. The problem is, the vast bulk of the community here doesn't know about those materials (unless I've been missing out on something important for the last three years ). To the web users, the site is GDNet, and so any external identity that may exist is at best secondary to the site itself.


Yep, I recognize that. But to the people and companies we work with they are one and the same. We like our non-site materials, so the site needed the change.

Quote:

The overall look is, admittedly, a very subjective thing. The problem is, the eye is lazy, and the memory is fuzzy. In my experience, color has a tremendously huge effect on perceptions of general form. For instance, the way posts are formatted here is quite different from stock PHPBB/et.al., but the light coloration makes it appear much more similar at a glance. Any graphic designer can tell you that color is easily the single biggest player in first-glance perception, and the wrong colors can actually obliterate other distinguishing features. In fact, knockoff brands capitalize on this all the time to make people "recognize" the package as a more familiar brand, while not noticing the distinctions - disctinctions which, in fact, are extremely obvious if you know to look for them, and give the knockoffs a legal loophole.

Sure the forum software has been capable of looking like this for years (I've been around here for a while - I know what it can do) but the important thing was it didn't look like this. Changing a brand identity is one of the most risky things one can do, because it will invariably be a polarizing move. There is very little middle ground in these cases; it's almost always either love or hate. This becomes especially problematic when the brand identity is split, as in GDNet's current case (site vs. other materials). For instance, I'll be damned if I had the slightest clue what the "official colors" were until I read your post. So while from one perspective the change is not only logical but in fact inevitable, from another perspective it came totally from left field, and as a rather unpleasant shock. My personal opinion is that silver and blue are also some of the most utterly cliche "official colors" in the history of colors, but apparently it's a bit late for that gripe


One other reason for the change was getting rid of the "site for hobbyist programmers" dogma. It's completely off base. We are a site of artists, musicians, programmers, designers, writers, amateurs, students, indie's, and professionals. We aren't pigeonholed in one target area, so why should we act like it or our design reflect that notion?

Quote:

I'm supposed to be at work (well, I'm at work, but not doing much of it...) so I really can't get too involved with a suggested navigation layout, but here's a quickie off the top of my head:

Learn
For beginners
Articles/tutorials
Columns
Dictionary

Expand
Jobs
Reviews
Books

Interact
Forums
Chat
Contests

Share
Showcase
Journals
Gathering
Newsletter

Other Stuff
Control panel
GDNet+ signups
Member search


The section header names are just the first things that came to mind, and could use some work; however, a more discrete and goal-oriented flow would help immensely. In general, design a menu hierarchy around what people want to do with your site, not necessarily how things are most logically categorized in terms of sets.


I like the idea. I'll think about it more and see how it fits us best.

Quote:

Anyways, as I said originally: options are your best friend. I feel kind of whorish bringing all of my points back to the same thing, but I speak from my experiences at Egosoft - sometimes the only way to really solve a hard decision is to let the end user make the decision themselves. In fact, we still offer the original forum theme there (from four years ago) for those who want to use it - and many still do. For them, that theme is the Egosoft forums, and no redesign can ever really replace it.


Well, this really wasn't a hard decision. It was much needed and gives us consistency, which is needed even more.

Quote:

For the record, I'd switch to a dark theme in a heartbeat. The layout I can get accustomed to, eventually, but the color shift is just a bit of a dealbreaker. I have no problem continuing my GDNet+ subscription to access it, either.


The dark color theme will be available to all. We knew people would dislike this change.. we just didn't get the theme done in time.
The main thing I do not like about the new menus is middle-click (open new tab in Firefox) does not function. Nor does right-click (no context menu to open a new window etc).

However shift-leftclick does open in a new firefox tab as mentioned.
Quote:
Yep, I recognize that. But to the people and companies we work with they are one and the same. We like our non-site materials, so the site needed the change.

...

Well, this really wasn't a hard decision. It was much needed and gives us consistency, which is needed even more.



Consistency is of course good. I guess my main negative reaction came from not having any idea that this change was for consistency; by all the impressions I got from the data available to me as a consumer of the site, it was fairly arbitrary. I admittedly haven't read all of the available postings on the change, but as a casual (more or less) reader that pulled up the site this morning to see a totally new look, I've got no point of reference as to why this was done.

To be honest I really have no idea how to mitigate that kind of response from the web-viewing public at large, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it accounts for a large part of the negative response to the switch. I'm a lot less frustrated with the changes now that I'm aware of the reasoning behind them; I may have not been annoyed at all if the change wasn't such a shock (I've known about it since Sunday from reading various journals, but that didn't help much) and if the full explanation had been available (or more obvious to me) sooner in the change cycle. Especially since, as you said, you expected a lot of negative responses, I would have imagined it would have helped to provide more up-front explanation. That's just my perspective as a consumer, though.


Quote:
One other reason for the change was getting rid of the "site for hobbyist programmers" dogma. It's completely off base. We are a site of artists, musicians, programmers, designers, writers, amateurs, students, indie's, and professionals. We aren't pigeonholed in one target area, so why should we act like it or our design reflect that notion?


Fair enough - the perception and intent of your site is of course up to you more than up to those who use the site. I guess I'm just so used to this being a hobbyist site that I've never really even thought of it as anything else.

Which is really weird, since I'm not a hobbyist myself [wink]


Quote:
The dark color theme will be available to all. We knew people would dislike this change.. we just didn't get the theme done in time.


This makes me happy. Again, it would have been nicer not to have to learn that the hard way (by getting all angsty in my journal), but hey, water under the bridge.


For what it's worth, I've been on both sides of the fence on this kind of thing - both the consumer and the time-pressed producer. Having experienced both angles, I have to say I'm impressed and grateful for the fact that the staff (for the most part) isn't showing a fire-and-forget attitude about the change. That kind of cooperative interaction is why I keep coming back here [smile]


Quote:
I like the idea. I'll think about it more and see how it fits us best.


Glad to be able to contribute something, however minor. Having been in the producer's shoes for this kind of thing in the past, I definitely sympathize about people complaining and not offering suggestions. I'd certainly hope to be able to help the community and site progress forward, rather than just being an idle whiner - no matter how much fun it is [wink]
I too was (still am, but less so) angry at the changes to the color scheme. But kevin also made a good post in my journal in an attempt to extinguish my fires and did a damn good job of it. While I still don't and never will love the color scheme, I can now see that it is still in flux, and in-fact was very much like you mentioned (had the support of a weekend website), now we all love GDNet, and maybe GDNet has gone too far in it's attempt to 'we arn't hobbiests' (i'm not, so I definetly dont want that stigma) I think perhaps what isnt realized is indies are about 1 degree off from hobiests, when compared with AAA game development corperations (though indie IS a broad term). Anyhow I am willing to give Kevin the benefit of a doubt and see what kind of alternate template we get, and more importantly how the default template morphs into the 'final' template.

If after a while things go from bad to worse or don't get better, then that is another thing and we can decide what is best then (leave the site, petition, etc.)

It is clear to me that kevin knows we are upset now, which is good, what he does with that is what I am waiting to see.

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