I’m not sure why there hasn’t been ten or so posts of this, but I’d like to post my critique of the website Soap Hope.  This is the website we are critiquing and redesigning for our current Experience Design assignment.

On the surface this is a website that sells soap; it is an e-commerce site, and that’s the context in which I want to first write about it.  What stands out immediately about this site is that it is very cluttered.  A user first visiting the site is practically bombarded with boxes, blocks of text, logos, images, and menus.  There are two navigation menus—one on top and one on the the left side—and each one technically works different.

While on the subject of menus, the layout and content don’t make much sense from an information architecture point of view.  Both menus contain more than one category of information, and the left one is particularly bad about this.  I will return to the subject of categories for arrangement of the site’s information.

The aesthetics of the site are also quite muddled.  The color scheme is based on green, which makes sense because it evokes an environmental quality which is related to the site’s mission (which I haven’t written about yet because I’m doing the site in a technical way first).  The site’s secondary colors are purple—green’s complement—and orange, which I don’t think fits into the scheme from either an aesthetic or color theory point of view.  The oddly out of place orange contributes to the site’s disjointed and cluttered look.  To round out a few other aesthetic problems with the site:  It inconsistently encapsulates text in rounded-corner boxes, it mixes dark colored and light colored text, and it has an inconsistent mouse-over affect on various elements.

There are also a lot of technical and usability problems with the site, and while technical problems are maybe a kind of low-hanging fruit for critique, I still think they significantly affect the aesthetic experience.  At the bottom of the main page the awful-looking grid of products causes popups on mouse-over that obscure the grid.   The expansion and closing of the nested in the left hand menu is pretty confusing, and it took me several minutes with the site before I realized this was just one menu.

A really important part of this site beyond just the fact that it is about e-commerce is that it has a particular mission which is supposed to set it apart from just any other website selling soap.  I think the primary problem with this website is that it possesses this unique mission, that defines its purpose, its experience, its main appeal to its customers, and yet it obfuscates this mission; hiding it in a mess of confusing menus and cluttered layouts.  This website has a socially conscious reason for existing, and it isn’t being up front with that.

The top menu has a link for mission, this is where this information is displayed, and even on that page it is done poorly.  There is a circular graphic on the page, I think a bigger and more detailed similar image could display this site’s mission in a much better way.

I basically identify two main problems with this website I would choose to fix:  The mission needs to front and center, and it needs to present in a quick and visual way with minimal text.  Next, the shopping experience should be streamlined and better organized.  A question arises to me of which of these aspects makes up the primary experience and which the secondary experience of the site.  I considered this a bit before I decided I don’t think the question makes sense.  The way to approach this problem is to integrate these two experiences so tightly that a user can effectively shop for products while being made aware continuously and visually (i.e., without a written explanation) of the site’s mission, and that a new user can quickly understand the site’s mission and go right to shopping.