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The top left quarter of the homepage highlights key functionality.

The first thing I notice about the site is the design. There is a distinct lack of contrast in the colors and tones used on the page. I’m immediately drawn, instinctively, to the top left of the site. I see a knife and a fork, which leads me to believe this site is about dining. The subheading reads: Alaska’s Restaurant Menu Guide. Bingo, I’ve surmised the intent of the site within seconds.

I see the navigation where I expect it: across the top. I read these: Home, Listings, About, and Contact. Nothing exciting here. Next I see: your default location. I click this and look at the options. Oh, hmm. I don’t know any of these cities so I guess at one, Big Lake. Next I see the heading: latest updates. Okay, so maybe this site is like a restaurant-twitter mashup. That sounds like an intriguing idea.

Next my eye is drawn to a coffee cup icon. I hover over it, to see what it’s about. No dice. Hmm, no alt text or hover state. I guess this is just entirely decorative. It seems like an odd placement of this element. It raises more questions than it answers.

I move back up the page: looking for a restaurant or specific food. Hmm, I just wanted to know what this site is about, but I’ll bite. I click “restaurant” and have a go at searching for “pizza.”

The quest for pizza

I’m pretty surprised at the resulting page. I immediately see the exact same search bar as the previous page, but expanded. It looks like it’s waiting for input from me…but it isn’t. I find the culprit: no results.

I’ve got to wade through almost a screenful of information I’ve already seen before I get to the good stuff.

About 2/3rds of the way down the page is a frownie face. Uh oh, I feel like I did something wrong. There is a message next to it that says: “Nothing? Try searching for food!” This doesn’t explain much. Did the site only search in Big Lake for pizza? It can’t find a single pizzeria in this whole city? Maybe Big Lake isn’t that big. I’m scratching my head, but I still want to see where the link takes me, so I click.

Wow! Tons of results this time. Okay, so now I feel like there is definitely pizza to be had in Big Lake. This is a really exciting page. Not only does it itemize the various types of pizza, if they’re deliverable, and what restaurant they come from; it does so in a familiar format.

Scanning down the list, I immediately wonder what kind of pizza “Ale-cheddar Pot” is. Man, does that sound delicious. I click on the food name to try and learn more, only to find the dreaded 404 page.

This page isn’t very helpful (we did just run an article on improving the usability of your 404 page). I’m looking for some kind of suggested content to help me get back on my way, but all I can find is a link to the “Help and Support” section of the site. Since I don’t feel like helping the site owners out at this moment, I click the back button and try another entry. Maybe I’ll shoot for something more common.

Blast it! Again, I reach a 404 page. I try an experiment. Holing the command key (to open links in a new tab) I try 4 different results from the page. All of them result in a 404 error. Hmm, this seems decidedly unusable.

Joining the Club

Okay, maybe pizza in the Big Lake area isn’t happening tonight. Not a problem. I take a moment to think:

If I had a pizzeria, this could be a huge untapped market. Perhaps I’ll list Andrew’s Pizza Emporium on this one site, take the orders online, farm out my pizza baking to other (nearby) pizza shops, profit profusely, and retire early. It’s a plan.

So with that, I click on “Listing” up top, so that I can add my establishment to the site’s listing. What I’m presented with doesn’t look like a listing at all.

This is just the same information I found on the front page. This is the second time I’ve seen the search bar on a page where I didn’t expect it. Whereas I always look to search if I can’t find things right off, I guess searching is how I should exclusively get around this site. But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to add my site. I scan the page for any sign of a way to add my restaurant.

The login page is empty.

The only thing I find is a curious “Login” link at the top-right-hand corner of the site. I give it a click. Words cannot describe the resulting page. Literally–there are no words. I search this page for a mention of registering my business but, alas, nothing to be found. Now I’m thoroughly vexed. I click the back button and give up on my attempt.

Who made this?

Giving up on getting my pizza on tonight wasn’t easy. I’ve decided to figure out who runs this site and give them a piece of my mind. this shouldn’t be hard: the unexplored links on the site read: “About” and “Contact.”

I click the “About” link. I’m surprised not to see a search box. I read the blurb about SaveTable, the technical stuff, and finally find the gold: “for your restaurant…”

It looks like this is where I wanted to be all along–but it wasn’t where I was expecting it! I click the “get started” link so I can try out creating a site and populating my information. However, I’m let down at the resulting page. It seems that there is no straightforward user-registration system at work here. I’m presented with some vague form. What’s worse: there’s no mention of how long it will take to get back in touch with me, what the acceptance criteria are, or even who I am contacting. Will this create an account for me? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m confused enough that I don’t want to complete this bologna.

Conclusion gets a couple of things right, but many more wrong. I was initially impressed with the cleanliness of the front page layout. I found a place to put in my location and get on my way without too much trouble. The logo was in the top left with a great, instructive subheading. Indeed, there is much immediate appeal to this site.

Until you try and use it.

I’ve found nothing but trouble while diving into the site. I would recommend the person responsible for the user experience of the site to take a thorough look at how new users will approach the site. For example, not everyone wants to search. some people would appreciate a thorough listing page that did just that: listed restaurants. Further still, I’d like to see some kind of “call to action” on the front page. Something that separated customers from clients, and got each user following a particular path through the site. In this way, everyone will leave the site feeling accomplished and valued–anything but confused.

Lastly, before I close, I do want to point out that I did eventually make it to a restaurant profile. The profiles of individual restaurants are laid out in a very generic fashion, but that’s where the appeal is. There are no hidden surprises. Best of all, the accompanying menus on the site are exceptionally well laid-out and provide a familiar experience to that of looking over a menu “on location.”


  • Don’t waste the user’s time — Preempt 404 pages. If there are more than 1 or 2 404’s linked off of any page on your site, many users will give up. Especially if your 404 page is cryptic.
  • Don’t over-emphasize a page-element — Search should not be the focus of every page. Even on the results page, I have to scroll a good page-length down to get to what I’m looking for.
  • Separate your audience — Many people visiting will be new users. Guide them. The front page is pretty simple, but that’s only helpful to returning users. If I own a restaurant, I don’t know where to add my business. This is a big opportunity that you’re presently missing

About the Author

Andrew Maier

Andrew Maier is a lifelong student of the design community who believes that creation and learning are synonymous. His current interests include security, law, cities, and autonomy. He lives in Washington, D.C., in Dupont Circle.

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