The first thing I notice is the giant “Get Started!” text, and then the content rotator. I imagine these are different flash elements I can purchase. I immediately glance at the orange navigation in the top left, because it’s so colorful compared to everything else. I’m a bit confused as to what these options mean—I don’t know what the difference is between a flash file and a flash template, for example.
I mouse over the menu below the first menu. I’m curious why there are two menus. I click ‘make money’ (after all, who isn’t curious about a button that says make money?). The options look a bit technical, so I close that menu up quickly. I then look back to the middle of the page and read: (1) Create an Account, (2) Deposit Cash, (3) Find the Items You Want, and (4) Purchase. I imagine I have to start with step one—but I’m not ready quite yet. I look down the page to make sure I haven’t missed anything too cool. I see “Start Browsing.”
The layout here looks a lot like iStockPhoto. I’m not quite sure when the content was published, and who is was authored by. I long to see some kind of indicator to tell me how popular the content is. No matter. I scroll further down the page to the footer. It looks like there are 6,570 Flash files and 67 fonts available for download. Wait, what? Why does this site offer fonts? Very strange. Maybe some kind of sIFR-ready fonts? I wonder what that means. (I’m going out on a limb and guessing that these fonts are ready for Flash movies in some weird way. I don’t know what makes or breaks a font for Flash, but I’m assuming some fonts are better than others.)
Okay, I’ve digested the front page and I think I’m ready to give the site a shot. the first thing I’m drawn to do is see the quality of the submissions on this site. After all, you can have one of the most straightforward sites around, but if your content is crap, no one will want to use it. I decide to click on one of the Flash components I find on the front page “Auto-scrolling images menu.”
Show me the Components!
Once I get to the Auto-Scrolling images menu, I begin to parse the page. I see that the title up top has changed. Right under that, I see breadcrumb navigation. This is a great way to let me kno how deep I’ve just immersed myself into the site. It reads: Home > Browse Categories > Flash > Menu & Buttons > Horizontal Menus > Auto-Scrolling images menu. I quickly glance at all elvels of the hierarchy to make sure I am where I think I should be. Good. I quickly notice that the shearch bar is very close to the breadcrumbs. I look it over and decide against searching.
I notice the big canvas area on the page: “auto-scrolling imagesmenu” it says. Nothing else to see. I click on the canvas and the surrounding arrows. Nothing. Fair enough. I’m assuming that the page hasn’t loaded completely for some reason. Next, I notice the bright orange box to the right of the content. Again, the super-saturated colors and the bold font gives me a high-contrast area that I can’t look away from. Right under the price, it says I must login to purchase this file. Neat. This saves me some time if I’m just getting my feet wet: I never had to guess what would be on the end of that link.
I scroll further down the page, reading the right column briefly. All of the information here seems relevant and helpful. I raise an eyebrow when read “Awaiting 3 votes.” (How can you await a number of web-based votes?) I then notice avatars appearing in the center column of the page. I read the comments, noting the “not purchased” text next to them. It appears that other users are having similar problems getting the Flash component to display. Bummer.
I click the back button. I’m a bit determined here. I see another thing that interests me: Actionscript 3 XML Image Gallery. Even the name sounds fancy. I click full-screen preview. A very well-laid-out Flash movie pops up in it’s own page. All of the work here, I assume, is the responsiblity of the component author. Everything loads well and looks great (and sounds great, given the music). After I’ve played with the component, I wonder if there’s a way to get back to flashden.net. It seems that I’m left to close the window myself. No real bother, but it does strike me as a branch of the user experience that leaves me hanging.
I close the window and go back to the page. The component author has been very thorough, documenting the features of his image gallery as well as related works he has done. It’s all very well-presented. I feel very confident about the level of quality on this site. There’s even a link that says “Need Support?” That makes me feel confident about a potential purcahse. I eagerly scroll down the page to read the comments. I want to see if other users of this site agree with me. While most of the comments are from users that haven’t purchased the component, other people are equally as impressed. Cool.
I finish scanning the contents and notice that the footer on the site has grown. There are a selection of recent items, blog posts, and forum threads to choose from. I’m wondering what the blog posts are related to: developments at themeforest, perhaps? I’d like to see what’s new around the site. Under blog posts, I click on “An Amazing Use of Flash,” and I’m taken to (what I assume is) the blog.
“Down the foxhole” it reads, in the top left. I’m immediately missing my breadcrumbs. I feel like I don’t know where I’ve come from, exactly. It’s nice that the color scheme has stayed the same, however. I feel pretty confident that this site is related to flashden.net. Just then I notice the flashden.net logo in the top right of the blog. Awesome. I scan over the post, noticing the amazing use of flash. Everything here is straightforward. I like how the “meta information” about the blog is located below the post. I think it helps me parse the most important parts of a blog post first.
I’m a bit disoriented, though, because I’m used to blogs using a two or three-column layout where the content appears on the left. It’s no real cause for concern, however. I’m still looking for updates to flashden.net. I figure if I do a search for flashden, I’ll get some kind of an announcement. I type “flashden” into the query box and click search. I’m then presented with a page that looks identical to the page I came from. Bugger. Oh well. I figure that I should go back to flashden and find the cool stuff myself. Saying goodbye to the blog I click the link that says: “visit flashden.net.”
I go the flashden.net signup page. I see a big form with lots of fields that I normally fill out by hand. Since “eating my own dog food,” I’ve downloaded a copy of 1Password (as suggested in Brian Rayner’s excellent article about protecting the online user experience). I go up to my 1P icon and click “fill identity: Andrew Maier.” The form is filled out in a second and I scan over the fields to see if there is anything left for me to fill out. I see a box on the right that says “thinking about signing up?” Why yes, yes I am. I click “view privacy agreement.” Ah crap. It took me to a different page. Why? I thought this link would open in a new window. I go back through having 1Password fill out my form and scan once more. I click “I agree to the Terms & Conditions” without reading it, and then click ‘Sign up!’
I’m apparently getting a verification email soon, apparently. Also, I see a big graphic that says “hello”. Hi! What do I do now? I think this page could use some kind of “call to action” that lets me know what I can do, not that I’m a member. I believe it was listed under steps 2-4 on the front page. I hear the ‘ping’ of my email client and go and check my inbox. I’ve received something from flashden.net. Awesome. I go ahead and click that link to setup my account. I see the same page I was just on with a different message. Something about “Become an Author” to make money (and who doesn’t want to make money?). I’m scouring the page for the words “Become an Author,” but alas, it’s nowhere to be found. I think out loud: what would be associated with ‘becoming an author’? Finally, I find something that makes a bit of sense: Author program. But that definitely doesn’t say “become an author.” Ahh, but it’s close enough.
I click that and see a notice “You must read this page and take a quiz…” a quiz?! What? I’m very tempted to leave but I wonder, how hard can an informal quiz be? I glance over the information I “need to know to become an author” and click “take the quiz.” Okay, that’s a bit daunting. I decide that maybe the quiz isn’t for me after all. I click back on the Flashden.net logo.
Browsing the site while logged in
It appears the front page has been changed because I’m logged in. Somehow, I wish that this was the page that appeared after I validated my account. That would make it easier for me to understand what I could do on the site with an account.
I look over at the left bar and start to expand the menus. I’d like to get an idea of what other kinds of information is available on the site. I see that there is information about “top authors,” the bargain bin, and even badges. I eventually decide to click “Update your homepage,” which leads me back to the “hello” page. Okay, I’m going to look around a bit more. I click over downloads and find nothing of interest. Next I click on bookmarks, and see a default collection has been created. I click on the default collection and I’m presented with a blank page. Hmm. Okay, I click the back button. I click on earnings, statement, and edit. All of this makes sense. I don’t feel inclined to edit anything about my profile, so I decide to browse the flash templates.
Things here are straightforward. I notice that there are two levels of navigation, which is a bit disorienting. Not only can I drill-down by clicking a category on the left, I can pick subcategories on the right. Once I’ve found a new component to look over, I notice that the page has been augmented with a “Bookmark this Item” box. Neat. It seems that’s where my “default collection” comes in. After testing this component I decide to go ahead and purchase it. I click the purchase link, knowing that I haven’t input any credit card information into the system.
As expected, I’m presented with an error message, telling me that I don’t have enough funds in my account. Fair enough. I look up to the top of the browser and notice the $0.00 next to my account. I expect to be able to click on this and get to my account balance information. Fortunately, this meets me expectations. Very nice. It looks like I can deposit money into my account by any of a number of methods. I’m guessing that they prefer Moneybookers, a service I’ve never heard of. Odd. Aside from this, I think it’s pretty obvious how this process would go.
How about those fonts?
Okay, one last thing. I’m still curious how fonts end up on a flash site. So, I think I’ll check into that before I go. I find the search on flashden.net very easily. Next, I type in the name of the most popular font I know, Helvetica, and select “fonts” from the drop down list. Last, I click go (why is it called go?). No results. Hmm, out of desperation I change the query to “any.” Hmm. A bunch of reasonably priced fonts appear. What’s interesting is that they’re all pixel fonts. I’m assuming there’s some reason why Flash designers/developers would prefer pixel fonts over normal fonts. Ah well. I look a font called “Jammy” over. I like the text preview on the font and would definitely consider buying it, if I were interested in designing with flash.
Overall the site is very logically laid out. Things are were I’d expect them to be and there were little questions as to why the user-experience designer made certain choices. With that said, there were a couple of things I found that made me scratch my head. I would suggest the following changes:
- Don’t break your users trust — Make sure that links that are available on pages with forms link to new windows, so they don’t destroy a user’s work.
- Reduce cognitive load — Reduce the number of different navigation elements on the page. The orange navigation, tabs, subnavigation, and in-page navigation offer a lot of possibilities.
- Avoid dead ends — The default collection of bookmarks shouldn’t link to an empty page. Also, when a user previews a flash file, provide a simple way to close the popup (other than their browser controls).
- Provide Blank Slates and/or Calls-to-action — For example, after I create an account I’m greeted with a simple “Hello.” Change this to something that gets me involved.
- Create familiarity — Consider a redesign of the blog so that it aligns more closely with flashden.net.