I have worked on several car accounts in my career so I keep tabs on what the car makers are up to and I saw today that Volkswagen has re-designed their site. This new site was created by Cripsin Porter + Bogusky, which is their agency of record, with Domani Studios and Oshyn Inc..
The most noticeable difference is that the entire site is now done in Flash, though it is broken up into individual pages to help with marketing and search engine optimization. The main navigation dominates the home page and is made up of a large search field and the main nav options. I spent a lot of time tinkering with the search functionality and I was really surprised that such a dominant piece of functionality was pretty much useless if you do anything but a really generic search. Searching for terms like “New York dealers”, “New York City dealers”, “Rabbit replacement parts” and “Rabbit accessories” all came back with nothing of substance since the top return was always about the Kelley Blue Book cool car awards. You only seem to get useful results when you stay to broad search terms like “special offers” or you click one of the top search terms from the drop down in the nav.
I then went through the rest of the site looking at the design, usability/interface design and functionality.
Visual design & Content
The design of the site is something I struggle with since background of the almost the entire site is white and most cars are shown in white and create this very sterile feel that I have trouble with because I don’t see the brand as something that is this vanilla. I kept looking for some twist or Easter egg that would bring the site to life but I never found it. Sections like the Gypsy Cab Project and the Jetta Report add some color and diversity but this is old content that has been brought into the main site so not really part of the re-design.
For me the biggest disappoint came when I clicked in to look at any of their car models. The section felt very light on content and were almost completely devoid of any interactions. The features and specs sections are the best as they offer at least a little animation. I still think that Acura does the best job of letting you explore their cars online with the interactive showrooms they have created for each of their cars. You can open the doors, play with the radio, turn on the lights and really get a sense for how the car is designed.
The usability and interface design of the site is a mixed bag since some areas are really engaging while others areas take more trial and error than they should.
The heart of any automakers site is the ‘build a car’ functionality since this is the point where you find the most sticky content since users can personalize their content. This car builder does set itself apart since it is the most visual and unique car builder I have seen but at times it is tripped up by usability issues. I thought that the usability around how you move between steps in the building process and how some of the items were added and remove could have been a lot clearer. I did really like the fun and creative touches in the process like when you finish the process or building a Rabbit it says “Breed my Rabbit” or how the last step of building your GTI is customizing your Fast creature. These kinds of fun touches are rarely found in this process and are a welcome addition.
The Compare-o-tron is also a really nice section that lets you graphically compare various VW models to their competition. Different car brand take different approaches to this type of content since some stay completely away from it while others really embrace it. This version does nice job as the VW will throw out all the parts that are not found in the competitive model. This graphic style and content as the interface usability make this process more engaging than on any other car site I have seen.
Another interesting areas is the find a dealer which is a mash-up of Flash and Yahoo maps.
So overall the new VW.com is an ambitious site that moves the bar higher in several area but is plagued by a mixture of design, functional and content problems that keep it from really standing out from the crowd.