I was doing research for some new bookshelves last night and saw that both Crate & Barrel and CB2 have undergone really nice site re-designs since my last visit. Each site takes a slightly different approach but both use really nice large photography and longer than normal pages.
Crate & Barrel starts with a visual and scrolling home page dotted with photography and promo blocks. I think the real stand out of the home page is the navigation that is a long white rectangle that spans that entire top of the page. As you rollover the navigation each new tier expands across the open rectangle in a simple but fluid experience. This is made possible by the fact that there is a deliberate design decision to not have the site design bound by the traditional screen fold and to let the content run down the length of the page. It is a design direction you have only seen emerge more recently with the introduction of devices like the iPad but it makes this type of navigation possible. I think it’s successful because the void in that empty white rectangle has power and draws you in. Once you roll over the main menu you want to explore more to see how far the menu will expand and to explore all of the possibilities. Moving from the home page you will find the main category pages have an almost editorial feel with large photos and typography that scrolls down the page in a really nice design. Each successive sub-category page breaks the photo sizes down to smaller and smaller blocks until the bottom category pages become a more standard product listing. Those product listing pages are also very well thought out with a clear investment in their photography as it gives you the option for large or full screen photography. The rest of the site is also smartly laid out with multiple up-sells through coordinating items, what other consumer have purchased with that item, user reviews, credit card applications and an array of social media outlets. I have designed a lot of e-commerce sites and the progressive visual style and smart user experience make this site a real stand out in the category.
The re-design for CB2, which is also owned by Crate and Barrel, is very nice as well but is a stripped down version of what the new Crate & Barrel site offers. In this case the home page and main category pages are simplified to just a single hero image and the main or sub navigation. The resulting simplified and bold look is a nice balance of usability and product focused design. Category and product pages lack the bells and whistles of Crate and Barrel but are still clean and easy to use.
If anyone knows who did these re-designs I would really like to know because the work is exceptional because it is able to take such a complicated user experience and makes it easy to use without losing any of the brands design style.
THE BAD AND UGLY
Last week Marc Jacobs launched a re-design of his web site and I was honestly shocked and disappointed when I saw the results that have an almost complete lack of style and digital design sophistication. From the moment the moment the home page loads through the rest of the site the experience it feels dated, heavy handed and clumsy for no reason. We start with the return of the long dead intro screen that only houses two videos that are too small to let me see the collection so you are left to click ‘enter’ to get by this roadblock. The interior of the site is populated by people that look like the result of cross breeding between Oddcast and Color Forms characters. It’s an aesthetic that doesn’t do any favors to the user experience or the presentation of his products. The clumsy user experience and design choices extend even to foundational site elements like the main navigation which uses a drop down menu that runs the entire width of the site creating tons of dead space and the longer menus obscure almost the entire site. Once you get past the menu and select a category like ‘Marc by Marc Jacobs > Ready To Wear > Mens‘ you are presented with only three results. You have to realize that if you want to see all the clothes you need to rollover one of the shirts, say the Polo shirt, and click on ‘view all’ to get the 8 possible polo shirts. Even more frustrating is that once you have found your way through this maze to hidden navigation they give you no way to get back to Men’s Ready to Wear except by going back through the main navigation. I don’t know why you would create this series of dead ends that force the consumer through such a frustrating back and forth experience and leaves them wondering if they really saw all the clothes or if there was another button hidden somewhere they missed. It’s sad to see a brand like this have site that is so ill art directed and conceived. It feels to me like one of those projects where the site looked and sounded like a good idea when it was presented as storyboards but the it never evolved beyond that state. As a result we are left with an experience that feels like you are moving from one flat experience to another without the benefit of a larger vision of the site that ties everything together and makes it an easier and better experience.