Toolbox Blog: resources, tips, tricks & info for creative professionals

Posts Tagged ‘design flaws’

March 3rd, 2009

“Interweb the Rainbow”? The Skittle’s Twitter Feed Site Re-Design

Modernista! did it first, but Skittles got the attention.

This week Skittles changed their homepage to a Twitter feed of anyone who tweeted anything with the word ’skittles’ in it and it’s created a lot of buzz.  Some people love it, saying its perfect advertising in our struggling economy.  Some hate it, more than a few social media types have called it a ‘cheap publicity stunt’ because of Skittles previous non-involvement with any sort of social media.  But, ignoring all social media banter and looking at the new skittles page from a web design perspective, we see some potentially serious problems.

First of all, control.  Your homepage is usually the #1 place people go when looking for information on your company.  Is it really a good idea to essentially give up control of the majority of the content?  Skittles has already run into this problem.  Once word got out you could get on their homepage by simply typing ’skittles’ somewhere in your tweet more than a few inappropriate links and offensive language popped up.

Usability.  The nature of this type of feed (and the sometimes inappropriate things it shows) caused Skittles to put up an age verifying pop-up before entering the site.  True, if a person can add or subtract they can trick the program, and the screen is a pop-up so you can see the content behind it anyway, but putting up a barrier to entry like this is a no-no in terms of usability.  Many users will simply not spend the time to fill it in and move on.  Also, what happens to the people who were genuinely looking for information?  They are bound to be more than a little confused on where they should go next or whether they are even on the Skittles site…not good.

The actual site navigation looks too much like a spammy pop-up for comfort.  Once you get past that and realize that it is meant to be their site nav the way they’ve labeled things can confuse people further.  ‘Chatter’ takes you to the same page you’re already on (’Home’), ‘Friends’ pulls up a Facebook page, and ‘Media’ brings in a Skittles focused feed from YouTube.  The only parts of the entire site that still resembles a company website is a contact form and somewhat lame ‘Products’ section with a few links to their parent company, Mars‘ site.





They’ve created buzz and we really do applaud them for attempting to utilize social media to get their brand involved. However, abandoning current web convention all together and sacrificing usability is probably not the smartest move in the long run…guess we’ll have to wait and see.

February 16th, 2009

Designer’s Block – Tips for getting out of a Slump

Some days you kick out great work like it’s nobody’s business.  Some days you can do nothing right and feel like you’ll never design anything worthwhile ever again.  Everyone has been there, and its incredibly frustrating – especially when your deadline is looming. So next time you’re wrestling with a bout of Designer’s Block, try a few of these tips and strategies that AgencyTool gathered from a few fellow sufferers.

1. Sketch it Out
Go old-school and pull out a pencil and paper or whiteboard.  If you find yourself stuck do some brainstorming sketching first.  If you are completely stuck just doodling can help to get the creative juices flowing.  If you have a vague glimmer of a plan formed you can cross out, change, and put fresh ideas down faster than with any of the design programs out there.  This way if you suddenly don’t really like how the design is going it will take you all of 2 seconds to scratch it out and start again.  Voila, no “but I’ll lose all the progress I’ve made” dilemmas.

2. Just Let it Go
Say you make some type of kick-a** component, an awesome button, icon – whatever.  But this great piece of art just doesn’t fit into the design you’re currently working on.  You spent so much time and effort making your icon that you find yourself trying to change the entire design (and possibly getting stuck)  just so you can include it.  Words of advice from great designers…’Just let it go’.  Save your glorious button for another day and get your focus back.

Also under the ‘let it go’ category – don’t be afraid to step away from a design that’s just not working.  Let it go for a few hours/days then come back to it.  Then, if you’re still stuck, consider just letting it go altogether.  Instead of forcing something that isn’t quite right you’ll open up to ideas that might work better.

3. Switch it Up
Don’t use the same techniques over and over again.  When stuck, people have a tendency to fall back on tried and true components, resulting in a design that looks like everything else you’ve done before.  Force yourself to branch out and create something that looks different from your previous work.  Experiment with color, technique, layout or change locations by getting out of your office – just switching up your routine may be enough to get you out of the slump.

4. Take a Look at Galleries
There are a lot of gallery inspiration sites around, set aside an hour or so and just take a look through them.  Sometimes all you need is a kick in the pants.  Just be careful not to cross the line between being inspired by someone else’s work and stealing it.

5. Ask for Input
Ask people whose opinions you trust and who will be able to give you specific feedback and constructive criticism.  Steer clear of people who don’t have any design experience or tell you that ‘it just doesn’t feel right’, you’ll end up spending hours trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix something that may be perfectly good.  This can be a bit tricky – see the  SEOmoz blog on this topic: How to Ruin a Web Design

6. Relax
It’s cliche to use the batting average example but it does fit.  You’re not going to knock one out of the park every single time you sit down to complete a design.  It might be a good thing to lower your expectations just a bit – not everything you produce is going to be great.  Once you take the pressure off and realize that even the best designers run into this wall you’ll be over it in no time.

photo from

August 13th, 2008

11 Signs That its Time for a Website Redesign

There are ALOT of sites out there that, well to put it nicely just aren’t very good. We’ve all gotten a good laugh when we come across a truly horrific design…but what if that site was yours or your business’? Not so funny now. The ever increasing quantities of websites, plus our rapidly decreasing attention spans, make good web design more important than ever.

As a public service, here are a few signs that you might want to think about a redesign:

Your Site Makes No Attempt at Engaging a Visitor

Your site is a wall-flower. One-way information flow is old and tired. With all the social networking and bookmarking sites (Digg, Stumble Upon, and Facebook just to name a few) people are connecting in new ways every day. These users will become frustrated if they can’t interact with your site. Blogging is a great way to make your site feel more social and up-to-date, as long as the blog is relevant. An added bonus is that the consistent new content will attract a crowd of “regulars” and makes your site more appealing to the search engines. At the very, very least make sure your email is easy to find. Remember, if people like you they’ll tell their friends.

Exemptions: Some sites intentionally designed to be informational (and informational only) may get a pass on this, but there’s really no excuse for not engaging a site visitor.

Your Homepage Makes People Shudder

You’ve got a cluttered first page. Too many graphics, links every other line, ads on every side, not to mention all your text, etc. Its enough to make the casual viewer’s head hurt! For example, I stumbled across this page and my stress level shot up instantly. The most up to date advice is to keep it simple.

Exemptions: No one. There’s no excuse for a homepage that leaves people not wanting more.

Your Site Makes Any Sort of Noise

Music, unless it is very relevant to your site content (i.e. you are a record label’s website) its probably a better idea to leave it off. Keep in mind where people may be when they come across your site…at work, school, in a library, etc. – all places where a loud burst of music may be less than welcome. Another factor to keep in mind is that not everyone may share your obviously superb taste in music (shocking I know). If, after you put some serious thought into it, you still decide to have a musical background please PLEASE design it so I will be able to turn it off.

Exemptions: Obviously, any music or video websites and also the very, very few websites that tactfully use sound on the site.

Your Site Has Content No One Can Read

No one can read your copy. Having too many colors on the page or choosing bad color palettes/backgrounds can lead to a site that is very hard for a user to read. The same goes for using really tiny text or a hundred different fonts. Anyone can get carried away during the design process, but let’s remember that first and foremost your website must be readable. If people can’t read the information you want to give them your website is essentially useless – no matter how pretty you think it is.

Exemptions: No excuse for tiny text or anything hard to read.

Your Site Involves the Use of a Horizontal Scroll Bar

The site has horizontal scrolling. We’re all used to scrolling up and down, making us scroll sideways is awkward and annoying. Please don’t do it, nobody likes awkwardness.

Exemptions: Blue Vertigo who has a resource list in the same vein as our Dashboard gets an exemption cuz their list is so useful, but it would be equally useful vertically. No one else gets a pass on this one though.

Your Site is Ugl-IE

Your site works and looks great in Firefox but is a train wreck in Explorer. Make sure your design works well with all browsers, you don’t want to lose people before you even get started.

Exemptions: None and its time to fire your previous web designer.

Your Site Leads People To Nothing

There is no focal point to speak of. Check out this site – sure our eyes flock to the red circle in the middle but after that its a free for all. It’s important to know how people’s eyes read a page and factor that into the design. You can influence how people view your site by creating a flow that is ordered and makes sense.

Exemptions: None, unless your going for that complete chaos look.

Your Site is Either All Text or Has No Text

Your site is all text, or for that matter your site has basically no text. Designing a successful web site is walking a fine line in this respect. Too much text looks busy, and people simply won’t read all the way through it. On the other hand a site with all pictures is confusing and hard to navigate, not to mention that having no text makes it much harder for the search engines to index/find your pages. For example, I dare you to try and find your way around the bow-wow books website

Exemptions: Craigslist (all text at its finest).

Your Site Opens with a Ridiculously Long Flash Intro

You have a ridiculously long flash intro. In theory its a great idea – visually appealing, fun to watch unfold, unique – but in reality it can go very wrong. These designs are now commonplace and people won’t sit through long intros, especially without a skip button. Granted, some flash intros can be very cool, but a common opinion among the best designers is that the intros are just another obstacle for potential visitors to overcome. Deciding to put in a skip button itself can be a catch-22, you allow the visitor to get right to your site but you are also effectively saying ‘my intro isn’t important why don’t you skip it’. In that case why do you have an intro in the first place? Its a debated issue and it basically comes down to personal taste. A flash intro is not an inherently bad design technique, but when abused it can hurt you. A general rule of thumb is any more than a few seconds and you start losing people. Here is an example for you – its obviously not meant to be a legitimate intro but you get the point.

Exemptions: Any site purposely trying to drive visitors away…so no exemptions here.

Your Site Induces Seizures

The website has text that blinks/scrolls too fast/flashes neon colors at you or contains any other activity likely to cause a seizure. Along these same lines continuous animation is also a no-no. Take a look at this site, the spinning globe animation and flashing text not only look bad but also make the design very dated, circa 1995. Too much movement on a website is like the little kid inside the store screaming ‘Look at me!’, its bound to get some attention – almost none of it positive. You have to go to this website to get the full effect, trust me (and what’s with the random cat running backwards at the bottom).

Exemptions: The band M.I.A. who’s user base loves flashing colors.

Your Site’s Navigation Confuses Users

The absolute #1 sign it is time for a new web design is if your site has unclear navigation. How users get from one page to another on a site should be obvious. Make sure you have some sort of menu on every page – people get frustrated when they have to hit the back button a thousand times. But be careful, let them hit the back button if they want to, there is nothing more annoying than getting redirected to the page you are on when all you want is the page you just left.

Exemptions: No excuses for a website that can’t be navigated by an everyday user. (more…)

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