Usability Critique: Architectural Firm’s Site Difficult
Usability is just one part of many disciplines that make up a business’s web presence. Design, search engine optimization, and social media also play a role. One element often affects another.
The look of a site is often driven by the brand. A business can convey much information to its visitors by its design. However, it’s important to include basic usability tenets.
To demonstrate the point, this article will critique GageClemenceau.com, the site of Gage/Clemenceau Architects, a New York-based architecture firm. Some of the design choices directly affect the website’s usability, accessibility, and its search visibility.
When first entering GageClemenceau.com, visitors see a splash page that redirects them to the home page using a meta-refresh tag set at 4 seconds. The content on this page consists of a logo and the text “Enter Site”.
For search engine optimization, the only content provided on this page is “Enter Site”. The company’s name, which is a graphic, is unreadable to the engines.
For usability, this page offers no value to visitors. They can obtain more information only by clicking “Enter Site” or waiting for the actual home page to appear.
More importantly, the logo image does not include an alt tag, which is a text description of an image. Al tags are helpful to people who do not have images turned on in their devices — such as mobile phones — or those who are disabled and use screen readers.
As an added benefit, search engines look at alt tags to understand why the graphic is on the page. Alt tags should describe what the image is. An alt tag can contain keywords, which help with search engine optimization, but it should not be used to stuff keywords. The primary purpose is to provide relevant information about the picture.
The home page offers several examples of how a few small changes could improve the customer experience, accessibility, and visibility in the search engines.
The home page’s background is black with large images and white text. The menu, on the right, is positioned so that the pictures make the biggest impact.
Visitors will initially interact with a web page in a manner they are familiar with, such as clicking on navigation, links, and images. One of the first items the visitors sees when visiting Gage/Clemenceau’s site is “News” and then pictures of projects.
Because images are so important in this site, the visitor may be tempted to click on a picture to get further details. But the only clickable navigation is through the menu.
While the layout emphasizes the pictures, the menu text is hard to read due to its size and color. The font size is too small to be easily read and the white text color on a black background causes eyestrain. Possible solutions include placing the menu on a different colored background with a dark type. If black is the required background, gray text would be easier to read. It is less taxing on the eyes. Gray reflects less light and unless the website is meant to be viewed in a dark room, gray would be a better choice.
The spacing in the menu is very tight. From a quick scan, which is what most visitors do when they look at a website, the subheadings of “Featured Projects” and “Selected Residences” are hard to read. Creating a better grouping of the subheadings and their listings by adding more white space would improve legibility.
The social media icons at the bottom of the navigation menu are small. If social media is important to this company, it should encourage participation by making the icons larger.
At the bottom of the home page is the first chance to see where this architectural firm is located and its phone number. The text is gray, which is less glaring to the eyes. But it is a very small font. By not having any contact information at the top of the page, the visitor has to work to find the company’s location.
From an SEO viewpoint, the local information is buried at the bottom of the home page. The search engines need to go through many lines of code before they can find and index the location. Local search may not be important to this particular business, but for most businesses, it is an important tactic.
A search box is also provided at the bottom of the page. It appears to be there in case other navigation features failed. Unfortunately, the search box is not near the main navigation.