The kde-www war: part 3

Just a quick history lesson. In the introductory post we highlighted several tell-tale symptoms that KDE.org had a very big usability and design problem. In part 1 of the war, we discussed a back-to-basics question what are we trying to communicate, what are we trying to achieve, and outlined goals for our various target audiences. In part 2 of the war, we started to achieve the goals outlined in part 1 via restructuring the pages and site map in order to distinctly separate between the KDE: The Community and KDE: Software. In this part, we’re going to focus on the home page – the central entrance hub for new members, and how we can use design elements to achieve part 1’s goals, and still cover all of the masses of content that KDE has to showcase in a streamlined manner as in part 2, and even reenforce KDE’s identity in the process.

Now that we know what we want to achieve and the structure of KDE.org, we can start thinking about the layout of the home page. The home page is – obviously – the most important page of the website. It acts as a central hub to link together everything that KDE has to showcase, it acts as the first stop for information for KDE newcomers, it acts as a publicity and news broadcast, it is the link between the various KDE sub-communities and communication channels, and most importantly, in today’s web-centric world, it defines KDE’s visual identity. After much debate, it had to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Embodies KDE’s visual style and branding – ie, the Oxygen, Air, Breathe, and Be Free. It should be a design that when you see it, you say “that looks like KDE”
  • It had to make people get KDE. To understand KDE not as a product and a software suite, but as a community. We want them to share with KDE’s passion. KDE has grown further than just a collection of apps and a desktop interface, and thus we can no longer be so shallow as to market it as such. We must follow our rebranding efforts to separate people from product, and emphasize open-source’s greatest strength – the community. We are a community, not a company. We create passion, not products.
  • It had to showcase our latest and greatest event/release/activities. However we need to showcase it in a way that people understand. Saying “Akademy 2011 is here!” alone doesn’t mean anything. Nor does “KDE 4.6 released – experience freedom”. Let’s change that to have meaning.
  • Clear segmentation between Software, Community and Development sections – to succeed where the current design fails. Let’s not make it a maze.
  • Absolute directions towards the goals we outlined – Goal 1: to become a user of KDE. Goal 2: Say hi and tell us what’s up. Goal 3: would you like to scratch your own itch?
  • Allow the user to understand how the site is structured and what exists without overwhelming them.

For this part of the war, I’m not going to write a wall of text. I’m just going to throw out the design right now, and let it speak for itself.

More to come. Let’s make a change.


The kde-www war: part 2

Before I begin this (delayed) post, I would like to reemphasize that a sub-agenda for these blog posts is to raise community-awareness about design issues in KDE. The website is certainly not the only area where there are design flaws, and I was very happy to read over my Christmas holiday a couple a blog posts here and here by Aurélien Gâteau about design issues within applications. I hope we can see even more of these :)

In the initial post, we talked about the elephant in the room: the wall of text that is KDE.org. No solutions were presented, but symptoms were outlined. Then, in part 1, we discovered that the wall of text was partially a side effect of a deeper problem within KDE – the structure, or lack of it. We discussed KDE’s marketing objectives, and the corresponding misalignments within KDE’s website. We finished off with outlining the ideal situation in the future. Today, we are going to talk about achieving it.

KDE has a lot to offer. Our goal is to filter down what it offers based on their relevancy to target user groups. So before we start, let’s look at the current state of KDE’s immediate “sitemap” – this is what the visitor is presented when they first look at the site. I’ve divided them into columns that they belong in, and briefly described in bullet-points what each page does.

Yes, that was long.

Too long. In fact, let me break down the issues here:

Too much choice.

This is the biggest problem here. KDE has a lot to talk about, but newcomers don’t want to be slammed with all of that in one go. For websites belonging to smaller services, each navigational item can highlight a different issue without overwhelming the visitor, because each wrap nicely around a single point of focus. KDE has multiple points of focus. Thus, it should only provide navigation items which hit each topic, not sub-topic. Here are two other websites which deal with the same problem very effectively: Mozilla.org and Opera.com. As you can see, Mozilla ignores submenus altogether, and Opera has a very clear breakdown of the topics they deal with. All in all, nobody should ever be presented with 44 navigational choices.

Imbalance in choices.

Not only is too many items in “About KDE” confusing to the user, some areas in the Community section really seem like pagefiller on what doesn’t need to be included, and others are just a massive list of items. In contrast, the Workspaces section only has 3 links – which combined together really fail to deliver what they could potentially deliver. The user is left with a “is that it? Pages upon pages of history and verbose description about KDE’s past, and only a couple screenshots about what it’s like now?“.

Double entries in the navigation.

A big problem here is that the navigation headers themselves are links to a page instead of a plain divider as it is meant to be. For example, the “About KDE” is a link, and “Community”, “Workspaces”, “Applications” etc are also links. Often this results in the page being simply a summary of all of its sub-pages, which means information repeats itself, two pages have to be maintained in the future instead of one, and users get confused of where the “official” source of information on a topic is. The summary often seems half-motivated, just to fill up a page, with the only exception being the Dev. Platform page.

Ambiguity in categorisation.

The most immediate ambiguity that shouts out at me is the “Support” category. I immediately thought “How to Support KDE”, as is the norm on most other sites out there, but it turns out that it is actually “End-user Docs/Help”. Apparently I was not the first to be misguided, as seen by the later-added “Join the Game” link, which is therefore miscategorised. Similarly, a lot of the “Community” which I identified in my part 1 is nonexistent in the Community section, but is instead filled with links about “KDE: The Foundation”. The Workspaces and Applications category is also separated, even though it need not be – as they are often bundled together when presented to the user. The result of this is a half-assed workspaces section of the site which really undersells what we have to offer.

So, what now?

We have to completely reorganise the website, obviously. The new navigation has to:

  • Provide a smaller number of choices
  • Properly categorise navigational items
  • Remove stub pages that are unnecessary
  • Remove “summary” pages that are unnecessary
  • Hide pages that “only those looking for it should find it” (eg: About Free Qt Foundation)
  • Expose more of KDE’s community, (forums/planets/irc/mail lists/social sites/ocs/etc)
  • Guide users through our outlined optimum navigational route which is aligned with our marketing efforts (as identified in part 1)

Now that we have a clear list of goals, I spent a few days brainstorming and designing a new structure along with the kde-www folks. Here’s the finished product:

Less choice, less confusion.

This new structure narrows down the number of items to 29 areas. However, we’ve decided to not immediately present all 29 to the user, instead settling for showing only 4 items, Community, Software, Development and Support, with the About items hidden in the footer (only those searching for those pages should find it, we shouldn’t showcase it). We’ve merged the Workspaces and Applications sections into Software, which essentially is a visual tour through KDE, instead of splitting it up into single, solitary pages. The community section actually does have community links this time, and we’ve narrowed down the Development items to the bare essentials (open for debate, as the -www folk aren’t desktop-devs), as in general the devs know where information is kept. Ideally, the Development section’s objective is to make it easy for new coders to join.

It is a little hard to describe, but many pages have been merged and some even completely removed, and I won’t go into details describing why every choice was made.

Points of focus

I’ve highlighted with a blue square several points of focus, this are in general more important navigational items, as they represent key sub-topics in each section. Later on in the design phase we shall discuss how these can be emaphsised visually.

Aligned with marketing’s optimum navigational route

I’ve made two arrows in the diagram above, one blue and the other red. The blue represents the optimum path for our new users. It starts them off with “We are KDE”, to answer their question “What is KDE?”, then guides them through the Software section, a visual mosiac of pretty colours, screenshots and beautifully presented features to persuade them “Why is KDE awesome and why should I use it?”, finally, we land them at the “Get KDE Software” page, once they’ve said “OK, you’ve had me convinced. Let’s get started”.

The red arrow is slightly more complex, for people who already use KDE. Their landing page is the “Get Involved” page, of which the objective is to answer the question “Where do I fit in?” When answered, we will direct them to one of our many community outlets within the community section and help them start their journey with KDE. Alternatively, should they be interested in joining the technical aspects of KDE, they can learn about the Dev Platform, and get redirected to the Techbase, which should turn them into super geeks in no time.

That’s it for part 2.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re enjoying this series. There’s still a long way to go, and you can actually keep up to date on it via the WIPUP project here.