About The Authors

Daniel Eckler is the founder of Piccsy, an image bookmarking site for creatives. Glenn Manucdoc is the creative director of Piccsy. More about Daniel

Showcase Of Beautiful But Unusable Websites

“Form follows function” is a widely accepted — albeit controversial — principle that most designers in a variety of disciplines have adopted since its inception at the turn of the 20th century. On the web, we commonly refer to function as usability which is the ease of use and navigation of a website in order to achieve user’s goals.

In this showcase we present websites that sacrifice usability for beauty and present issues related to clutter, loading, navigation, archiving or visibility. Unfortunately, although the sites featured in this showcase are visually appealing, they are quite difficult to use. By studying such examples, we can learn what mistakes we can avoid in our designs and how not to strive for strong aesthetic appearances on the account of usability.

Visual Clutter

Where do I look? Where do I click? What do I do? Visual clutter is one of the most serious issues a designer can present to an audience. Not only is the user unlikely to achieve the desired goals (because it’s hidden in the clutter), chances are they’ll just leave out of frustration before they do anything.

Creative With aK Navigation overload! Not only are we unsure of where to look, we’re unsure of what’s clickable! Having to scan around the design with the mouse is not helpful for usability. And that’s if, and only if, you get past the load screen with no load progress bar. In addition to that, it takes a while until one has figured out that the welcome screen has to be closed to enable the actual in-site navigation. The inexistant scroll finally lets potentially interesting content disappear under the frame of the browser window.

creativewithak

Marc Ecko Marc Ecko is an extremely successful businessman with countless ventures and he definitely wants us to know it. The problem is, he’s got so much business we don’t know where to start, provided you get used to the almost erratic horizontal scrolling feature! Getting the information you are looking for will take quite some time.

markecko

Content Of Even after reading the “About” page and randomly clicking links, we’re still not sure what this page actually is about. Our best guess is a portfolio, but due to link clutter and no solid explanation of what the navigation does, we’re left confused.

There Studio Half of the circles that look clickable aren’t; the other half jumble into a new rotation if you drag and drop them. Granted, the movement makes sense for the philosophy of the company, and there isn’t too much clutter, but it took us a minute to figure it all out and that’s 58 seconds too long. If you feel the need for more bubbles, click and drag on the empty space to add more to the confusion.

Loading Issues

As bounce rates increase, and time-on-sites decreases web-wide, it is becoming increasingly important to grab people’s attention immediately. By the time all of your effects load, chances are your user is back on Google or Facebook looking for the next cool site. Loading times, skip buttons, missing instructions on navigation and many other issues are all subject of considerations here.

Coke Light One of the worst things you can do as a Flash designer is force an introduction on your audience. A long intro and no skip button means this site is likely to be abandoned by most of its visitors before they get in. Add an unclear “Call to Action” and no visual navigation indicators and most people will never encounter the beauty this site has to offer. Long transitions back to the home screen waste time the visitior could have spent successfully “travelling the world”, searching for the numerous balloons hidden within the map.

gringo

Design Sul We’ve never seen so many load issues on one site. Multiple load times for different elements, re-loads once you’re in to the site core, and no clear indication that loading is finished make for an extremely confusing and difficult to use website. Actually, discovering how to reach the content takes some time, what it all has to do with milk cartons is a different question.

designsul

Nicola Walbeck A big loading wait-time at the beginning of the site is excruciating, but sometimes manageable once you enter a beautiful, usable website. Scratch that here, because once you get in, you’ll have to wait again and again for each individual image, forcing you to stare at blurred photographs. A better idea would be to use loading bars on the image to indicate that the image is loading. If you are on a broadband connection, then it’s fine, but if you are not, you start to get nervous very quickly. Add the fact that there’s no prominent back button and the experience could be a bit frustrating.

nicolawalbeck

For content/category heavy sites especially, navigation is extremely important. Imagine driving without a map, or the grocery store with no aisle indicators. Navigation tells us where to go and how, or — in these cases — tells us very little. You might consider taking a compass with you, these examples make getting lost easy.

EContent After quite a long load, this site requires the user to click “enter”. Okay, we’re in. Unfortunately, although there is a quick-menu, it does not draw attention and the user is required to blindly scroll over images to see categories. Navigate with caution and carefully look out for navigation buttons!

econtent

Prism Girl Unusable sites have actually developed conventions. When we don’t see clear category navigation on a beautiful site, we poke around with our mouse looking for the category links. This site is beautiful (and complex) enough to poke around for an hour, but you’ll probably never guess you have to click on the mouse trailing icon to enter. Other than impressive design work, this site does not have much to offer.

Prismgirl

On Toyota’s Mind Slow load time leads to an unclear ‘Call to Action’, no visually clear navigation as well as a hard-to-find back action. Our question: What crossed Toyota’s mind when conceptualising this site?

northkingdom

Theologos No button to skip intro. No visually clear navigation. Slow transitions. And here’s the kicker, a separate page to mute the music player. When visiting the site using a fast connection, the animations make the visit even less enjoyable.

theologos

Archiving/Category Issues

Your site loaded fine, it’s clear what you want people to do, you have a solid navigation, but once the user begins moving around, they can’t figure out your category structure. When you want meat, you go to the deli, not the dairy aisle. Some sites, unfortunately, get it wrong.

Self Titled A hidden quick menu and unclear category organization make this site difficult to navigate. The actual information one gets when entering a category is rather scarce.

selftitled

Vanalen Image slivers make-up the category composition on this site, giving us very little information as to where/what to click on. If you’re new to the site, you are likely to spend a while until you find what you were looking for.

vanalen

Grip Limited The website does tell you to “click and drag” but finding this instruction amidst what looks like a typographic poster is something we suspect many people weren’t able to do. Realizing this might be a problem, Grip did create an “Open Menu” bar at the top of the page, but what are the chances you’re going to look there?

Kyle Tezak Another example of an extremely talented visual artist who has great design work, but a small usability problem makes the user experience less enjoyable. There is no actual navigation on this page, just a floating header and illustrations of Kyle’s work. To find the designer’s contact information, you need to click on the “Information” link in the upper right corner. Using more traditional wording would improve usability: e.g. putting an e-mail right there or naming it “Contact information” or adding contact information at the bottom of the page would help. A nice example of how one little detail can improve site’s usability.

Visibility/Scrolling Issues

A site may be uncluttered and have great navigation, but if the magnification is off, or scrolling is dysfunctional, no one is going to see it. Visibility issues can quickly turn to invisibility issues as users navigate away from your site.

Real Casual This site is invisible until you start hunting with your mouse, at which point different areas of the screen appear. A long roll-over hunt is followed by long load times, during which fade effects additionally take your chance to get a good look at content.

realcasual

Lego Click Scrolling is conventionally top to bottom or left to right, but this site starts at the bottom which is confusing. Add to that an inability to retrieve closed elements, and several other minor issues, and you get an extremely frustrating (but beautiful) website from Lego.

legoclick

Journey to Zero This site is rather large, but you wouldn’t know it. It starts magnified with no suggestion to drag scroll, leaving the user wondering where all the content is. If you scroll too far on the other hand, you might end up in empty regions of the site, making it hard to get back to the content. Very beautiful website that is difficult to use.

journeytozero

Faub (currently offline) Another beautiful site that starts magnified and does not let you decrease the magnification, or suggest dragging for navigation.

faub

Uniqlo Uniqlo presents what looks like a beautiful and usable online store. That is, until you’ve added 10 items to your cart only to find out there is no check-out. Turns out it’s not a store at all, just a wishlist! A truely frustrating experience for every consumer willing to spend!

uniqlo

Bio Bak Another drag navigation site that’s just too big for its own good. This is one of our favorite sites from a beauty/having fun perspective, but it does an awful job of presenting the design agency from a usability perspective. Using the mouse wheel by chance let us discover that the site has more to offer than what is visible on the first glace.

biobak

Summary

Design for function and communication. If your website ends up beautiful in the process, you kill two birds. Design for beauty only if the primary function of your site is to convey beauty.

Be wary of visual clutter, especially in navigation and on landing pages. Designing with too much clutter can make an audience unsure of how to use your site. In the worst case users won’t be able to load your page in the first place. Web customers don’t like to wait. Ensure that your site has a fast, clear load that conveys an easy understanding of how long it will take and when it is finished. This minimizes your risk of losing visitors to other sites in the meanwhile, keeping them occupied with joyous anticipation.

Once users arrive, you want to direct them to certain pages on your site. Always make clear what and where your navigation is, and what each element of your navigation does. Don’t make users guess or poke around to find an answer. On big sites, with lots of content, archiving and categorization is especially important. Make sure people can effectively navigate your archives. Try to make your menus self-explanatory, saving the users time, letting them invest it in effective exploration of your site.

Visibility is a huge issue most people don’t consider. In addition to designing for minimum resolutions, make sure your audience can clearly see the content you want them to at all times. If you’re designing to sell, make sure you’re designing to sell. This is especially important as your goal is to promote purchases. The more difficult you make it to buy your product, the less likely you’ll make money.

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