3 Unconventional Designs

By | February 26, 2007

Here are three websites that do not follow conventional web standards.

The sites incorporate Flash-heavy designs with unusual navigation and layout to grab and hold users attention. The unconventional structure of these sites may contribute to confusion among some visitors, but may also enthrall others.

  • paramountvantage.com/babel – Official web site for the movie “Babel”
  • The website for the critically acclaimed 2006 movie “Babel” forces you to first watch a list of its award nominations and wins, including “Golden Globe Winner, Best Motion Picture Drama.” This splash intro forces users to wait and there is no button to “Skip” forward.

    Once the “Babel” home page loads, it flickers with images from the movie before a large video window in the bottom half of the screen begins playing. This home page is essentially the one and only page on this site. Clickable elements to show video, photo and text from the film are loaded up in the same two visual boxes on this page.

    Navigation is located within a gray horizontal bar in the middle of the page. The white outlines of little squares change color when rolled over and pop up text cues for links. The squares are filled with color after the link has been visited.

    Within this navigation structure is another sort of “hidden” sub-navigation. As an example, click on the third square on the bar and get “Photo: Morocco” Users can now view a bunch of photos of Moroccan scenes from the movie in the large window, but only if users realize they need to click on one of the 10 thumbnails that have appeared at the top of the page.

    The “Babel” site does not include a logo in the upper left corner, a search box, a site map or a bread crumb trail. But I think the site’s design works for its genre. This is a movie website. Its design is meant to evoke the tone of the film, as well as promote it. I found myself intrigued, and didn’t mind learning how to navigate it. It also comes equipped with a haunting audio soundtrack (and the user can control the volume).

  • shimano-xtr.com – Mountain biking/x-country cycling equipment
  • Shimano is an international manufacturer and distributor of cycling equipment and accessories. Its XTR line is designed for mountain bikers and cross-country racers, an audience of active adults, athletes and thrill-seekers.

    As such, the XTR product website – www.shimano-xtr.com – is showy. Driven by a flash engine, users pick high or low bandwidth and wait for the site to load. Then a splash page with sound effects is presented. It’s like a commercial. A “skip intro” button is offered on the splash page at the top left.

    The next page users are led to has six black squares on it with the words “The Product” in one of them. Click on the words “The Product” and another flash page loads, kind of slowly. Now users are led to a third page (see below), essential the XTR home page, where visitors can finally learn more about Shimano shifters, brakes, drive trains and wheels for their mountain bikes.

    Roll over one of the four boxes at the bottom of this “product” page and the boxes will light up to show users they are “clickable.” The company logo for Shimano is located not on the top left of the page, as is conventional, but on the right side of the page. Click this logo and the user will be taken away from the XTR site to the main Shimano corporate site.

    A conventional link that says “home” can be found at top left, and leads back to the home page of the XTR site. However, that’s probably the only convention used on this site.

    Shimano-XTR’s site does not have a search box, a site map or bread crumb trails. Shimano’s main purpose for this site, it seems, is to introduce a new mountain biking product with a certain brand image and tone. I think it is kind of clunky and too slow to load. But it suffices overall.

  • magichat.net – Vermont-based beer company
  • Lastly, the website I found that caused the most confusion is the official site for the Magic Hat Beer. I can only assume that this site’s intentionally bizarre design is meant to delight, entertain and bewilder visitors. It follows hardly any of the web standards or conventions.

    Magichat.net does not feature a logo in the upper left corner. The logo is in the middle, being sort of “projected on a building.”

    The site’s splash page is mandatory – users have to enter their age / 21 and over to enter. There is no search box. It does not offer clear navigation, obvious hyperlinks, or bread crumb trails.
    Users are challenged at every turn to find hyperlinks hidden about like Easter eggs within a highly-stylized mish-mash of art that appears on this Flash driven site. There is no site map.

    The one convention offered: A “contact us” button situated at the bottom left side of the page.

    The question arises of what image the Magic Hat Beer Company is trying to project to the public with this website. The site is visually arresting and artsy, for sure, but the site is also perplexing to navigate.

    The Magic Hat site seems to say that this beer company is clever, hip and fun, and those who visit the web site should approach it with that same kind of attitude (or with a few beers in ’em).

    I’m not sure what visitors to this site will end up learning, but if they treat it like a game, they could have a little bit of fun.

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