Novell on the Web



By: coolguys

March 14, 2008 10:46 am

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The new site design has engendered an unprecedented level of feedback, good and bad, so we thought hey – let’s blog about it so people understand the thinking behind it.

Thank you, all of you who took the time to send feedback. It is a good thing, even if it stings. It means people are visiting Novell.com and care enough about it to comment. The kudos were energizing to us, and the complaints provided valuable insight. We wanted to start this blog so we could open a dialog with you to discuss the principles at play on our website.

Take design, for example. People have been commenting about design like mad since we rolled out the new site. We know that design preferences are intensely subjective and personal, as in the old “I don’t know anything about Art, but I know what I like.” So we don’t really expect to sway your opinion about the site’s design. If you hate black, for example, no amount of explanation is going to change that.

But we do hope you find it interesting to see the web through the eyes of professional designers. If nothing else it might help you appreciate the nuances of design that you see in your favorite sites, and gain a new-found respect for the creative process behind the well-designed web pages that you use every day without thinking.

There are five common complaint themes running through the site feedback (gathered from the webmaster Feedback link, the TTP list server, the NGW list, openSUSE, the Support Forums, Cool Solutions, direct emails sent to executives, and Novell’s bugzilla.) Some are solely design-related, and others are more technology related (but feel like design issues because they affect the layout and user experience). And some are entirely the result of technology – but we’ll lay them out here just so you know.

These themes are:

  1. The site is not performing correctly
  2. The language and country selector is awkward
  3. Too much use of Flash and glitzy pages
  4. I hate the login page, with the animated star field background
  5. I hate the way the black header menu works and looks

1: Site Performance

The performance issues you wrote in about were all about technology. Novell Electronic Marketing uses an open-source CMS tool called Plone, and as with all open source projects, it is in a constant state of development. We decided to create dynamic pages that would pull different page elements from various places in Plone so we could serve up not only language-specific content, but also country-specific. This caused some very wonky behavior. The complexities were crazy – since we served up our site on day-one in eight languages using this new dynamic model. Our Plone developers are working on all of the issues, and have unwonked most of them.

As for the weird behavior of download.novell.com – that was a separate issue altogether. They upgraded their tool at the same time we went live, and the upgrade outages made people think the redesign had broken Download.

The browser issues were all related to caching. If you usually visited Novell.com in Firefox, the style sheets for our old site were cached on your machine. When you accessed the new site for the first time in that browser, the old style sheets dutifully loaded, the new content tried to fit in, and the site looked like The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum.

The remedy for that is to clear your cache, or use another browser. (This explains why Firefox fans believed we had designed for IE – when they opened the site in their infrequently-used IE browser, it worked fine.)

2: Language and Country Selector

We had to implement the language and country selector the way we did for two big reasons: to enable us to offer geo-specific content, and to improve SEO. Our International pages had a Page Rank of bupkus, making them virtually unfindable for Google searchers worldwide. The new selector model fixes that by allowing the Google Juice to flow from the English pages to the localized ones.

3: Flash, Glitz, and all of that

First and foremost: our high-level pages are created for marketing. We are presenting Novell to business decision makers, and we are competing for their limited attention span. Our challenge is to keep them on the site – to engage them in site elements, guide their exploration, and ultimately get them to request a call from us.

Most of our negative feedback came from long-time Novell customers who were accessing data stores like the Knowledgebase, Download, etc. (And aside from the new header and footer, we left the technical information areas pretty glitz-free.) The Flash seemed gratuitous to them – and distracted them from the task at hand.

The truth is, the marketing pieces on our site are not aimed at converting our installed base: they are already customers. The marketing pieces are designed to catch the attention of our prospects.

Why we use Flash:

Flash allows us to animate things dynamically, quickly, and inexpensively. With Flash we create little video-type commercials on the web that explain concepts and help sell solutions. People are drawn to moving things, and respond favorably to information presented in this style.

Flash is superior to video in that it is very small and lightweight – 1 minute of video = 10-20 MB. 1 minute of Flash = 40K. It is also dynamic, and you can link from within the Flash to other things. It is XML-fed, so you can localize it more easily and cheaply than video.

Also, it gives us control over what the person sees. We can control the entire user experience. It is not dependent on your browser settings. (This is the same reason you use PDF – you can control the fonts, the colors, the layout, and everything, without the user settings interfering.)

There are some misconceptions about Flash that persist in the marketplace, and we saw that in our feedback.

Here’s a typical rant:

… the continued and ever increasing use of Flash for no technical reason is a problem. Flash is not only proprietary to the highest possible extent, which looks odd on a website of a company that claims to be about open standards and open source, Flash also is a CPU hog (just leaving your homepage open eats over 30% of my laptops CPU cycles when I disable my flashblocker), which totally contradicts any attempts to save power. But to make it even worse, Flash also is a constant source of security problems due to it’s proprietary nature.

We are a mixed source company – open and proprietary – we use whatever is the best tool for the project at hand. We use Adobe products too. And Macs. And Linux. The point is, we need to market Novell on the web, so we will use whatever is most effective. In this case: Flash.

True, Flash consumes CPU cycles. But a lot of stuff on the web consumes CPU. It doesn’t use any network resources, if that’s any consolation. And it would only suck your power if you left your browser open at a Flash page for long stretches of time.

As for security, it’s true that older versions of Flash could communicate freely with programs on your computer, so you had to be careful what kinds of things you used it for. The latest version – used by 96% of the web in the US – is highly secure. Macromedia/Adobe have spent a great deal of time hardening it against security risks. In any case, we don’t ask for personal info via Flash – all of our personal contact data gathering is done via HTML. We use Flash to present concepts, show how products work, and generate interest.

For more on Flash Security, see this page.

4: Login Page

The Flash animation on the login page caused problems for people in some environments (and a few headaches as well) so we took it down and the Login page now stands still and black. Just FYI, the Flash portion of that page was only the animated star-field – not the username and password entry fields. The use of the star-field graphic was a retro homage to the trekkies in our user base (you know who you are), and we always intended to change that image periodically. In fact, we have a contest running in Cool Solutions for the new one. Jump in if you want to try your hand at it.

5: Black Menu, and the overall style of the design

The new Novell.com site follows a form of the International Typographic Style, also known as the Swiss Style, which is a graphic design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950s that emphasizes cleanliness, readability and objectivity. Hallmarks of the style are asymmetric layouts, use of a grid, sans- serif typefaces like Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica, and Swiss 721.

For formatting it tends toward flush left, ragged right text. The style is also associated with a preference for photography in place of illustrations or drawings. Many of the early International Typographic Style works featured typography as a primary design element in addition to its use in text, and it is for this that the style is named.

Novell is an international company dealing with worldwide technology issues, and we felt that a clean, international style would best compliment this reality.

Black is a sophisticated color that has many positive associations. It connotes power, sophistication, and elegance to some. (To others, as we quickly learned, it connotes death and mourning — one correspondent called it “terrifying.” Sorry…) It also showcases our Novell logo. It is being used effectively by many well-respected sites. For example:

  • IBM’s header is black with a white logo.
  • All of Apple’s PRO application pages have black backgrounds.
  • Industrial Light and Magic uses a black background throughout their site.
  • Audi.com uses black and gray.
  • Nasa.gov uses a black background.
  • Microsoft’s site has two black/ dark charcoal bars on their home page. (The header and the News Section)
  • Linux.com has black background.
  • Linux.org uses a Black and Red gradient in all of their home page buttons.
  • The Sundance channel, Fox, and ABC use very dark backgrounds.

Of course we want our site to be usable and readable, so we didn’t put long stretches of reading material in white on black.

As always, we are watching our site metrics like a hawk. As we monitor traffic patterns on the new marketing sections, and measure our key indicators like time spent on page, next-page flow, and conversion rates, we will continue to make adjustments and tune the pages so form and function work together to deliver leads.

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Disclaimer: As with everything else at NetIQ Cool Solutions, this content is definitely not supported by NetIQ, so Customer Support will not be able to help you if it has any adverse effect on your environment.  It just worked for at least one person, and perhaps it will be useful for you too.  Be sure to test in a non-production environment.

18 Comments

  1. By:FlyingGuy

    I read your “typical Rant” paragraph and cant help but think how arrogant you sound. That person was making legitimate points, but I digress…

    So do what you will to the “marketing section” of the web site, we the great unwashed who keep you in business by constantly fighting the good fight to keep Novell products on our clients systems want the resources we need to be >> simple << and straightforward to get to and use.

    When we need patches / fixes / files /whatever we emphatically do not want flash in our way, we want the menus right there, right now, not have to mouse up, wait for the bloody menu to come crawling down, cover up what we are doing, just to be able to “open in a new tab” another part of the support section.

    Judicious application of “KISS” principles should be applied at all times when it comes to the sections of the web site that are utilitarian by their very nature.

    Further….

    Please try and avoid “As for the weird behavior of download.novell.com – that was a separate issue altogether. They upgraded their tool at the same time we went live, and the upgrade outages made people think the redesign had broken Download.” because quite frankly it makes you guys look like the right hand doesn’t have a clue as to what the left hand is doing.

    And what happened to the “Minimum Patch List” ? The link to “Manditory Patch List” is blank and you get the search box. So how about fixing that, ok? Its a simple thing, right up front on support.novell.com. Break it down into Linux and NetWare. These are the two platforms you support, so how about getting on that one, ok?

    Another thing…

    How about updating the knowledge base search engine while your at all this “beatification” business. I think people have just given up on asking for changes to that. Things like “Search within results” would be nice, eh? Also how about some fuzzy logic ala google. As an example, the following query “ip address change 6.5″ yields 300 results, yet if I typo the word “change” and the query ends up being “ip address chage 6.5″ the query yields exactly 1 result. Now if I eliminate the word “change” completely I again get 300 results.

    —- Now this is a rant ——–

    I think you get where I am going here, but i wonder how much money Novell is spending to make the site more “pretty” and how much money Novell is spending on making the site more “useful”, oh wait, I keep forgetting the making it pretty comes from the “marketing budget” and the make it more useful probably comes from the “Uhmmm we have any money left over” budget.

    ——- end of rant ———

    • By:coolguys

      You make some solid points, FlyingGuy. Corporate websites are created by many different teams, and we will make sure that your suggestions reach the right people.

  2. By:jamestaylor

    …is what I got out of the all that.

    • By:coolguys

      We just wanted to explain the reasoning behind the design choices, not to imply that we don’t care what people think of it. We’re taking each piece of feedback into consideration, and working on tweaks even as we speak (er… type).

  3. By:andriven

    I’ll be the first to admit I was fairly comfortable/satisfied with the old site…so given that I’m not crazy about the overhaul (whether good or bad ;) ).

    I do however appreciate the explanation of the reasons behind the choices….they do overall make sense to me at least.

  4. By:coolguys

    We liked the old design too. We always have a twinge of remorse when we refresh the site, because each design has its own special merit. Glad the explanation helped clear up some of the reasoning behind the changes.

  5. By:vbender

    Hi, I use the Novell support pages quite a lot since we started rolling out OES 2 and depend on the support and the customer center to get things done.

    about the web changes
    My Rant:
    When the web pages change it was what the hell! WHY? from a person who is in the trenches and depend on these pages for support and then go and change the way it is done with stupid flash and all the other changes that really have no real function. I don’t mind change but if and when change takes place, it better be for a more EFFICIENT way of doing things to make get the job done and preferably as i can now see…without Marketing influence!!

    Oh well… it is like most other software Giants.. Marketing rules…and those that are really making a difference with the products…get the bottom end of it……

    I guess we know who funded this project..

    Vaughn

  6. By:albertop

    The heavy use of flash you did on the site shows you’ve not considered the issues Flash has on Linux, which should be, according to your marketing, your platform of reference.

    I find the explanation “everything uses CPU time” just funny.

    If you want to do a good site for marketing, maybe you should look at some examples. Some of them were cited in your answer, but differs a lot from what Novell’s site is now.

    http://www.redhat.com/ -> no effects, no movies, no flash and videos. Just plain content.

    http://www.microsoft.com -> plain simple home page, without a lot of effects.

    http://www.sun.com -> no animations

    http://www.hp.com/ -> no animations

    http://www.dell.com/ -> no animations

    These companies do marketing and are leaders without the need of annoying their users with black backgrounds, snow, dropping menu and movies everywhere. There are many ways to attract the user attention without special effects, providing interesting content, and maybe avoiding to make the current users unhappy. They are the best marketing you can have, because they really know you and can talk about the products and help you spread their adoption.

    Regards,
    A.

  7. By:descent

    I’ll echo a previous poster’s comments that while I think the old site was better, I’ll learn to live with the new one. The pop down menu is just a bit annoying.

    I like the color and finally centered page though. Other than that flash delay, the look is really clean and sharp.

    Perhaps you could speed up the delay for the menu so that it snaps faster. That might help.

    On another note, in the menu ‘Download’ is listed twice. How about replacing the Download that is under Services, with Documentation and Knowledge Base. Those have to be two of the most frequently used pages and now they are a second click away.

    –rant–
    I also tend to agree with the previous poster about the download changes having bad timing with the layout changes. That is just a lack of change management. Someone should be written up for letting those changes happen at the same time. If Dragoon owns the web, then he should have final say, and if he had final say and let it go through, then just remember that Brainshare begins and crow tastes like chicken.
    –rant–

    Side note, the log in button ceased functioning in FF today for some reason. Had to hit the enter key instead. Worked yesterday.

  8. By:mrmazda

    It never ceases to amaze me that designers and their commissioners almost universally ignore how rude it is to assume visitors can somehow enjoy a better user experience by finding some arbitrary fraction of their preferred text size dominating virtually every site on the web. The justification for it became an anachronism many years ago. Average PPI has been growing for years, while user agent font defaults remain locked at 13 year old px sizes. Ironically, those who suffer from that imposition the most are those using the highest quality computing environments. e.g., imagine a $3,600 17″ WUXGA laptop user, whose screen is 133 PPI. The fixed 948px width content is barely 7.1″ wide, leaving an equal amount of whitespace straddling it, while the content is so scrunched she can’t even tell why the phone number is there. Even if not buried under a disguised form button it tiny size would likely leave it illegible anyway: http://mrmazda.no-ip.com/SS/SC/sc-novelllinux1.jpg

    It needn’t be this way. Sites can and should be built without sizing anything in px, and without most content text rendered at anything other than the users’ preference.

  9. By:vasanth

    It is so ugly that it is not pleasant anymore to visit Novell pages.

    I use to browse around the site almost every 1 hour or whenever I am on-line. But with this new design and color choices, I would think twice before visiting Novell pages.

    Well done again Novell, you are exemplary for your suicidal behaviors and this is yet another.

    Or may be, are you trying to reduce the traffic so as to handle it well???!!!

  10. By:burlandp

    “First and foremost: our high-level pages are created for marketing. We are presenting Novell to business decision makers” – great. agreed. http://www.novell.com is fine like that. Bring back support.novell.com and download.novell.com with no bells and whistles; that way you can keep both camps happy.

    As far as the design issue goes, sure it’s a matter of taste – but regardless of personal opinions, it just doesn’t look professional.

  11. By:tse7147

    Novell Marketing…

    Engineering product name: Sushi

    Marketing product name: Cold Dead Fish

    Someone should tell Marketing to stay away from Support, they will only make a mess of things, and chase away existing customers.

  12. By:samthendsgod

    Novell has a Marketing department?

  13. By:iblackwood

    I rely heavily on Search. Why ? Because over time, it has become more and more difficult to find things on the Novell web site.

    Okay, so I search for a very specific term “shibboleth” as this was a customer requirement – and I want to see how Novell support it and in what products. I get ZERO hits, despite the fact I can Google it and find that iChain / Access Manager does support it. So would that customer have gone elsewhere as their initial search reinforced their view that Novell was “legacy” technology rather than cutting edge ?

    This is one example – but when I have other people telling me they use Google to search Novell’s web site you have to wonder how easy it is to find information on it.

    Notice I haven’t mentioned goldfish, snowflakes or any other glitz – whatever happened to finding solutions to business problems ?

    And I LOVE how you insult management by saying they have short attention spans. Maybe they are just busy and expect information to be findable ? Of course your could probably insult them here – what are the chances they would find your comment ?

    Ian

  14. By:JWMerrow

    I personally like the changes to the site, it’s “clean”, and I can find most of the links that I want from the menu.

    Your “rant” definitely explains a lot. I had come to the site recently and was completely thrown for a loop expecting something else. But after having used the site for awhile, I have to say the interface is better. The flash video definitely succeeded in grabbing my attention. I even went through a couple links for fun.

    Two thumbs up here: ( b’-')b

    -JWM

  15. By:coertli

    In your comments about the “overall style of the design,” you indicate that the designers were using well-known style principles created by industry authorities.

    Unfortunately, I think it’s resulted in what another well-known authority calls “Mystery Meat Navigation,” which is characterized by “unrevealing icons that are replaced with text only when the mouse hovers over them.” This can result in a clean, beautiful, eye-appealing design that cripples usability.

    See the following Web site for more comments and examples about Mystery Meat navigation: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/mysterymeatnavigation.html

    And yes, no one likes long stretches of black text on a white page–but white text on a black page is even harder to read, which is what you get when the Novell menu drops down. None of the Web sites you mention as examples actually use much white text on a black background. Even Industrial Light and Magic uses black mostly as an accent, and the actual text background is varying shades of gray or blue. Much easier to read, and much less aggressive than that uncompromising chunk of black on the Novell site.

  16. By:nickho

    I am still not a big fan of the “new” website design. I agree with everything that Albertop said in his post

    Referring to HP, Dell Microsoft website
    … They are the best marketing you can have, because they really know you and can talk about the products and help you spread their adoption.

    Things that annoy me
    1. The flash part takes 10sec to load (from Australia) – way too long
    2. The flash images are irrelevant – a Guy dancing with one leg ( am so embarrassed to show my customers this image), dials in a power station, a calculator
    3. It is not obvious on how to get to the second level pages. IMHO the 2nd level pages are 10times better than the home page.

    Personally I would like to see
    1. the flash images from the 2nd level pages elevated to the homepage.
    2. some more text on the home page – for someone who knows nothing about Novell the homepage says nothing to make things worse – there are irrelevant images.
    3. A quick navigation – Microsoft has a small navigation on the right handside – which allows you to preview the section before choosing. The Novell website requires clicking on a hard to see dropdown and then choosing a section. Two clicks as oppose to one and because you have to wait for dropdown and squint to see the words – it takes much longer to navigate.
    4. Less reliance on images – The Images are very subjective. The image should give you a clue of what you are clicking on. A photo of 2 men and a woman does not tell me what the subject matter is about. Using text would be better. The homepage looks like 80%images 20%text, I would like to see 50%images/50%text. The site constantly keeps you guessing.
    5.Better Navigation – Having the dropdown black menu is not obvious to me, Also I have just discovered that all the Images are clickable after using this site for several months, again not obvious.
    6. Less flash – I like flash on a webpage as a point of interest – not as the dominant feature. I think too much flash as oppose to text makes a website harder to interpret – I think the site would definitely have some issues with people who are vision impaired. It is just too hard to use.

    Nickho

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