The new “Brown University”:http://www.brown.edu/ home page has been making a bit of a buzz recently (well, Jared Spool and friends have been “talking about it”:http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/tag/podcasts/spoolcast/ at least).
It’s quite a departure from the traditional university home page and it’s certainly cool to wave your mouse around for a while and watch the different ‘bands’ of content slide up and down.
But does it work? Without doing some proper user testing it’s impossible to say for sure. However, I have my concerns.
h2. Battle of the Bands
The main one is that the headings on the left hand side look like they might be links but are not. Because they are on the left, look a lot like vertical navigation and are much larger and clearer than the actual links on the right, my eye is immediately drawn to them.
Knowing that users tend to “satisfice”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisficing (they’ll click on the first link that looks like it might be relevant without checking to see if it’s their best choice) if I wanted to learn about, say, giving to Brown, it’s not unreasonable to expect me to see the “Giving to Brown” heading and try and click on it.
However, if you try to do so, before you can click the whole band slides up out of the way. It’s only when you mouse over one of the upper headings — which doesn’t move when you mouse over it — that you find out for sure that they are not links. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was pretty frustrating for some users.
In addition, if you figure out that the links are over on the right and try to click on one, if it’s in one of the lower bands it still slides up and out of the way. You only have to try this once to see how annoying this could be. If you want to look for a job, for example, you are forced to effectively click twice.
Another problem is that if you increase your text size, the content in the open band becomes unreadable as it disappears below the visible area.
h2. Why Hide Great Content?
This is less of a problem for the user than for the organization; but, by displaying content only when you open a particular band you are hiding it from the majority of your users. It’s hard enough to get people to read content that you shove in front of their face, let alone force them to actually go looking for it.
There’s no reason why someone who’s coming to look at admission information wouldn’t be interested in learning about what new research is being done. Or, someone who’s interested in giving to Brown might be further encouraged by seeing the great research work that is going on.
Unless these users actively mouse over the research band (which is unlikely, given how task-oriented most users are) they will never see this content.
h2. Searching for Search
I’m not sure why the site search is at the bottom of the page. There’s plenty of empty space at the top right of the page where one might expect to find it.
Also, because of how it’s designed the search box doesn’t look much like a text box. Less savvy users might not even realize that you can type in it — it looks a lot like a solid grey bar. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people just hit “search” without typing something in, in order to get to an actual search page.
If you do, you are taken to a blank page with the heading “Google Public Service Search” which is very confusing. Am I still searching the Brown site or the whole of the web?
h2. What Do I Know?
But then again, what do I know? Perhaps the cool factor of the unusual interface more than makes up for any potential shortcomings.
Maybe Brown University’s users like seeing the content bands go up and down so much that they wave their mouses all over the home page and see everything — now wouldn’t that be nice?!