When I made the offer to critique a few sites, one of the first requests was from someone at HadNow for a couple of sites the company had developed. Until now I’ve been reviewing sites in the order the request came in. This one I saved for last. I had some reservations about whether or not I should critique it at all, but as those reservations are part of the review I’ll save them for the moment.
As I’ve done with each of the previous reviews I’l remind you the point of this exercise is to get you to take the time to critique the work of others. You don’t have to share your critique with anyone, but if you’ve never done this before you might be surprised by how much it can help improve your own skills and understanding.
Here are the previous sites I’ve critiqued in this series.
Today’s critique will be for the Recipes Next website.
- Looks like a thin affiliate site. Can I trust it?
- What’s this site about? Where’s the clear indication of why I’m here?
- Good job minifying the code.
- Different pages and sections of the site don’t feel all that different from each other. Have I really changed pages?
- The ads at top are distracting
3 Things I Like
Organization — The main section pages are organized reasonably well. Each of these pages is presented as a 3 column grid of products and each product is enclosed in a border making it easy to tell them apart.
It feels like something of a grid underneath based on the number 3. I don’t know if there’s an actual grid in place, but overall it’s a good use of alignment and proximity to organize the content.
Flexible layout — The site isn’t quite responsive as I’m not seeing media-queries or flexible images, but site is built on a flexible layout. It moves from 3 columns to 2 columns to a single column as the browser width is reduced.
The ads drop below the logo and search field. The content inside boxes drops below images in those same boxes. While this could all go further it’s good to see a flexible layout in place as the start of a responsive design. The layout generally looks like it will work across a variety of different devices.
Hierarchy — As with the items above it’s not always perfect, but for the most part there’s an indication of which elements are more important than others on the page. Higher level headings are bigger and in all caps. Images generally stand out well from text.
Links are consistent in color across the site helping to separate them from non-linked text. For the most part there’s a good use of contrast to distinguish different elements and enough repetition to unite similar elements. The navigation bar uses a different background color, the message below it is the only red text on the page, etc.
3 Suggestions for Improvement
Organization — Where main section pages are organized well, interior product pages don’t seem to have much organization at all. Text spans edge to edge. There’s no perception of even a simple grid in place. Elements fall wherever they happen to fall.
To control things better I’d suggest constraining the measure of the text and perhaps adding a grid or at least a second column when viewed on wide screens. On the recipe pages, the recipes could be organized to sit alongside the images as opposed to below. Page elements like the social buttons and star ratings could also sit in their own column and be more consciously and consistently placed.
Along the same lines space could be used better on these pages. Too many elements are positioned too closely to each other instead of having room to breathe. A more careful consideration of the space in the design should lead to better organization throughout the site.
Trust — My initial reaction when viewing the site was to think it’s little more than a thin affiliate site. I questioned whether the request for a review was legit or meant more to get a link from me. As I looked deeper I thought the request was legit and then it wasn’t and then maybe it was.
In the end I clearly settled on legit as you’re reading this review, but all this bouncing back and forth calls into question why I wondered in the first place. I think the design has an issue with trust and improving the perception of trust is probably the most important suggestion I could make.
I’d remove the affiliate ads from the top of the page. If they need to stay on the site, I’d move them to the footer or sidebar or any place they aren’t the first thing you see. I’d also add more informational content. Where’s the about page for example?
Another suggestion is to not be so quick to present products on the home page. Consider the visual impression the page gives. There’s no need to push products so soon. Instead of the page being a grid or products, tell me why I’ll enjoy the site and then point me to things I can do on the site.
Instead of product reviews from Amazon why not product reviews from customers of the site. If they don’t yet exist don’t include them. Subdue the overall selling and offer some other reasons to visit the site. Instead of products everywhere why not add a blog that teaches me how to cook and talks about different appliances that might help me.
If the affiliate links were presented in context with information it would become much easier to trust the site.
Login — Why is so much of the site limited to registered users? There are too many “sorry, it seems like you landed on the wrong plate” messages, though I do like how pages are called plates as it fits well with the theme of the site.
I’d get rid of, or move, the “Only registered users…” message at the top of the page. It sends a message that new users aren’t welcome and every registered user starts out as a new own so why turn these people away. Better would be to show the message only when someone attempts to do something that requires them be logged in.
It’s fine to offer additional interaction to registered users, but I think more of the site could be open to everyone. For example why not let everyone see the questions and answers, even if posting a new question or answer requires registration. This is unique content that would help with the trust issue above and offer information that could set the context for the affiliate links.
Overall Recipes Next is a thin affiliate site that should be thickened. More unique content and less content from sites like Amazon would serve it better. Because of the nature of the business model it should do a better job of establishing trust above everything else.
Fortunately good design can help establish trust. Better organization, more consideration of basic design principles, making ads less prominent, and especially content that isn’t selling all the time, can lead to a more trusted perception of the site.
Some pages are organized better than others. A flexible layout is present, but not a complete responsive design. There’s a certain amount of visual hierarchy present in the design. All of these could go further and improve the overall impression the site gives.
And don’t make me login to see everything. Ask me login to participate, but let me see more as a non-registered visitor and entice me to join.
That’s the last of the critiques I promised. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed seeing them and hopefully they’ve been helpful to those who asked for the review. Most importantly I hope this series of reviews has convinced you to take deeper looks at different designs as a way for you to study what works and what doesn’t.
If anyone else would like a review, just let me know.