David’s Review of SignOnSanDiego.com

Sign On San Diego (http://www.signonsandiego.com) is a newspaper by the Union-Tribune that covers news from San Diego to national news.

I’m going to review this in my ordinary fashion, with my initial experience fully written followed by my suggestions for improvement at the end of the post.

Front Page

The homepage of signonsandiego.com

When I first arrive at SignOnSanDiego.com, there is an instant understanding that I am on some sort of news website, and it’s quite obvious that it’s local news for San Diego, California based on the region included right in the title. The layout of headings, images, text, and navigation is very familiar to me from other news websites. Purely by the design of the site alone, I already have a fair understanding of what this website is about.

Primary navigation and search are both easily identifiable, with the search being on the upper left of the site, and the navigation spanning horizontally directly below it.

There is a lot of information to take in all at once as there is with any news website or newspaper, but the front page does not feel too cluttered. Some fine tuning of spacing might make it feel easier on the eyes, but I do not have trouble parsing different pieces of content around the page.

Search

The Search Bar on signonsandiego.com

The search bar appears to be very typical at first, with nothing but the usual text entry and “Search” button. As I briefly mention in my post about creating effective search results pages, a simple text input and search button are the bare minimum, and really ideal for many searches (it’s very easy to understand, and required little thought or effort on the users part). However, there is more to this search than meets the eye.

There are actually three tabs above the search, “News/Sports”, “Entertainment”, and “Web”. There are two problems with this:

  1. Only the active tab is styled like a tab, which completely loses the effects of useful tabbed navigation.
  2. What if a user wants to search the whole site, and not just one section. Why isn’t there a search “All” option selected by default so that the user can constrain results only if they want to?

When I actually carry out a search in the different parts of the site, I notice that the page layout changes quite a bit under the Entertainment and Web sections. It’s not subtle changes like different color schemes applied to the same structure. The global navigation changes, the name of the site gets replaced by things like “entertainment guide” (am I on a new website now?), the placement of things like search are moved around… it’s a bit disorienting.

I can make my way around just find, but it’s the relearning of how to use the same website that doesn’t make sense to me. Only making the user learning how to use your site once means that they’re less likely to be confused in their browsing experience.

Navigation

The primary navigation is in tabbed form spanned horizontally across the top of the website, with each tab having a secondary navigation list pop up when hovered over. For me this works well, and I can quickly get around the site to whatever it is I am looking for.

When I navigate the sites navigation, headings on different pages of SignOnSanDiego.com are always in sync with what I would expect (browsing to Technology displays “Technology”, Sports is “Sports”, etc). The headings could arguably do a better job of containing the content, but there is enough contrast for me to pick out where I am fairly easily. It might be beneficial to actually highlight the active tab in some way or another.

The one confusing part about the sites navigation to me is a set of links that pops up on individual sections of the site. This set of links is always in the same place, but never seems to have links in the same context. For example, in the Business Section, there is “Local News”, “News by Region”, and “News by Topic” which leads me to believe that these are just typical constraints, but in the Sports Section there are links like “Chagers”, “Scores”, and “Forums”. If this navigation is styled the same from page to page, and always in the same spot, it probably makes more sense to have each do similar things. My guess is this choice was made based on popular selections in each part of the site. If this is the case it could be labled.

That all said, navigating SignOnSanDiego is not difficult for me. It’s pretty easy for me to get around, and I imagine that the typical user is able to find what they’re looking for.

Utilities

The Utility Navigation is a bit of a mess to me. It changes on different pages, there are too many options, and some of the choices don’t even seem to below in the Utility nav. For instance, I would not look to this navigation to find “Weather” or “Traffic”. I’m used to this sort of navigation containing links like “Home”, “Contact”, “FAQ”, “Help”, etc.

Continued Navigation

Navigation for extra parts and features of the site such as “Autos”, and “Jobs” are distinct from the primary navigation, but still prominent enough to get my attention.

Footer

The footer of SignOnSanDiego.com on the homepage acts as a sitemap for the entire site, a useful trait that makes jumping around large websites incredibly easy. Despite the large number of choices, it’s very simple and quick to use. The problem is that it disappears when I leave the homepage. This footer would do well to be on all pages of the site.

The sitemap, available on the homepage of signonsandiego.com

Page Clutter

Some pages on SignOnSanDiego.com are a bit too cluttered for me to effectively look around. Jobs and Autos are clear examples of where some things could be removed to make my browsing experience more pleasurable.

On actual news articles, my eyes jump immediately to where the content begins. The styles aren’t as pretty as some other news sites I frequent, but this is clear indication that it does it’s job well (for me at least). Some really quick tweaks like using lighter colors for the dates and author credits would probably make the connection to the content more instantaneous.

Possible Improvements

  • The search is the biggest problem in my opinion. The inactive tabs should appear to be tabs (they shouldn’t appear to be active of course), and by default there probably should be a way to search everything.
  • While browsing the different sections (entertainment), keep things that a user expects to be the same on every page exactly the same. Do not change the style or position of things like Search or Global Navigation too much.
  • Clean up the Utility Nav to have fewer choices, and don’t include items that would probably work just as well in the Primary Navigation.
  • Some pages such as Autos and Jobs simply have too much going on for me to decide what I need to do quickly. Cleaning these pages up a bit by removing less important parts would help someone understand what to do quickly.

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