I recently launched the Coaster Crew site and explained how I came to understand its target audience. Today, I will discuss the design of its homepage.
The site began as a multi-page site with separate pages for In the Loop, About, Events, and many more. These screenshots will walk through my plan to turn this into a one-page site – and how I was able to change it back into a multi-page site, keeping many features of the one-page design.
The new Coaster Crew homepage differs significantly from any of their previous designs. In the first sketches, I originally envisioned the new CoasterCrew.net as a single-page site. About, Podcast (In the Loop), Events, Forums, and the store would have been sections within this one page.
I conducted card sorting studies, where participants helped me determine the navigation menus for CoasterCrew.net and the fansites. This also told me what I should include in each section of the one-page site. The navigation menus’ links went to different parts of that one page.
Then I created a wireframe. This had the layout and content of the site. This first screenshot is the whole page zoomed out. It’s hard to read the page at this distance, so here are some of the sections. I will include more pictures of this in future articles about the individual pages.
The header of the site is largely the same as what you see on the site now. The current site’s header just uses a full-width background image and has only one button. I changed this later in the prototype.
Here is the first prototype with no images yet. In the theme we decided on using later, the logo is on top of the background image and the background image is full-width.
This shows one of the segues between sections on the one long page.
This prototype had the logo and background image. The top section in this screenshot looks a lot more like the homepage’s header today. In development, I toyed around with putting the logo on the left and in the middle. Ultimately, I decided to leave it in the middle.
Our first round of usability testing was on the aforementioned prototype. I took the testers’ feedback into account on this first development version of the page. This is a local version of the page rather than the actual WordPress site, so it only shows the page’s body. I developed this using the 1180px grid. Later, I switched to Foundation 4.3 because that framework was able to do more.
This shows the About to Podcast segue and a technical problem with WordPress that took me weeks to resolve. Its auto-paragraph feature (wpautop, for those who know WordPress) was needed by our staff so that they wouldn’t have to know code to write content. In the layout I was developing, this feature added a lot of unnecessary spacing in the layout.
/* Removes empty paragraphs. */
display: none; /* hides all truly empty paragraphs. Paragraphs with spaces will still show! */
/* Remove whitespace between sections by displaying only non-empty paragraphs in the entry */
#header p, #network-bar p, .home .entry div p:not(:empty) /* all non-empty paragraphs in a post/page, header, or network bar */
display: block; /* default for p */
That development version was deployed to a beta site for the second round of usability testing. Based on that feedback, parts of the prototype went back to the drawing board. The biggest changes were to our Events and Forums sections. These had a lot of content added to them in order to help the users of our site. Stay tuned for future posts about these two sections.
By now, several sections of the site had become quite long. Linking to different sections of the single-page site was not as straightforward either. So our staff requested that I convert the site back to a multi-page layout. This involved substantial rework in the homepage design, including new sketches and a lot of tinkering with the design in the browser with Firebug.
Moving back to a multi-page design takes more than copy and paste because, as a designer, I have to keep in mind the paths that users will take through the site. I have to make sure people will still visit all of the pages by making sure that the homepage gave a fair amount of space with them. I ultimately decided to shorten the sections of the one-page layout, link to the full pages, and add one more section for The Coaster Crew’s social media feeds. This screenshot shows the segue from the shortened Events section to the shortened Podcast section. On desktops, the sections feature fixed-position backgrounds.
I then did a third round of usability testing, incorporated nearly all of the feedback, and sent off the project for final launch prep. The site finished going live in early September.
This is how the top of the live homepage looks at desktop, tablet, and mobile widths. Any of these layouts can display on your computer depending on how wide your browser window is.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series. It will explain how my process enables Coaster Crew podcast listeners to stay In the Loop on the new site.
I am a user experience designer specializing in the amusement industry. I work for amusement parks, ride companies, coaster clubs, and any other company or organization affiliated with amusement. If you would like to hire me, please contact me through my website or tweet at @AmusementUX. You can also like my company’s Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.