Redesigning in public

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I don't know if Zeldman started it, but redesigning in public has become a trend that even corporations fancy now. Macromedia has just launched its "beta site".

First impressions, starting with the good things:

  • The design is sleek and aesthetic, rather cold but giving prominence to the content rather than the envelope, building on the previous company identity guidelines with bits of the semi-3D interfaces popularized by Mac OS X and Windows XP. The top banner is however closer to the blue metal bevel typical of XP than the candy-like widgets of Mac OS X.
  • The top banner features some sort of site map (dubbed "Tray" navigation), borrowing to the NeXT's file browser that is now part of Mac OS X. I tend to prefer that kind of navigation to overly complex drop-down menus.
  • It's overall a Flash site disguised in a "normal" site. This means that the average visitor (but are Macromedia visitors average anyway?) will recognize a web site by traditional good old web conventions, like bookmarkable pages and a back button that works. Jakob Nielsen will not be too angry.

On the less good things:

  • The site has a doctype of XHTML 1.0 Transitional but does not validate.
  • The home page starts throwing insults at you such as "Initiating Application Manager", "Loading Navigation", "Assembling Interface Components" or "Processing Content" that I'll rank as a pure faute de goût.
  • There are a few interface widgets, all wearing an arrow pointing either down, right or up, which provide absolutely no clue on their meaning.
  • The Products and Solutions "Modules" (as Macromedia calls them) provide, IMHO, no added value compared to a more classical treatment as drop-down menus with their eponym items in the top banner. They are treated as popup lists (so, like drop-downs anyway) and they eat lots of home page real estate.
  • The lead teaser features a drawer with multiple links at the bottom, carrying the function of the previous Flash teasers that have been running for some time now on the home page. Unfortunately, once it slides down, it won't slide up properly after. May be a performance issue...
  • Which brings me to my biggest grief with this Flash site: it is awfully slow (I'm browsing it on a PowerBook G4/500 with Camino). Jason Kottke reports that it crashed his browser (Camino again). The site map is so slow that I had trouble finding out that you have to click on each item and wait, wait, wait until you may get something.

Also worth notice:

  • A long time Atomz client, Macromedia switched to Google for its site-search (with a "powered by Google" logo at the bottom of pages).
  • Macromedia eats its own dog food with Rich Interface Applications and promises more RIAs on its site in the future. Actually, it promises world+dog that "RIAs are the future for next-generation websites." While I dig the concept for online applications, we have yet to see that the mix Flash 6 + cookies + javascript is the replacement to web standards for building the semantic web.

Macromedia wants to know how it compares to its previous site along three questions:

  1. The new site is better representation of Macromedia. In that they put their technology and ideas at work, yes.
  2. The new site is a better user experience. It could, if it worked properly on a decent computer. But I guess they will fix that. I'm neutral right now.
  3. The new site makes it easier to find what I'm looking for. The previous site was already quite good at that, and the new one is equally up to the task. Again, I'm neutral on that one.

Have a look, and tell them what you think.