Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Update on FreeDOS web redesign

Thank you to everyone who responded to the "call for feedback" on the FreeDOS web redesign! Your comments were very helpful, and I am using them to improve the next "test version" of the web site.

A new test design should be out this weekend, and I'm hoping you will take another look and share more comments with me.

I'd like to share some of what I've learned from you in the web redesign process. But first, let me take a step back and talk about my goals for the redesign:

M. "Hannibal" Toal (project coordinator, 1995-1996) assembled the first FreeDOS web site (www.freedos.org) in 1995, providing basic information about FreeDOS. Over the years, various webmasters contributed to the site: rewriting old text, growing new content areas, adding new information. However, the web design evolved without a style guide, leading to pages filled with dense paragraphs of highly technical information. Finally, in late 2009, Node Thirty Three Design donated a new web design that updated the look of the web site, but did not address content.

While the design has stabilized, the content remains difficult to use - information is hard to find. These problems were highlighted by an informal survey posted to the freedos-user email list in February. You told me you appreciated the "latest updates" on the front page of the web site, but found the site navigation confusing, and the text on the "About" page too dense to read easily, outdated, or both.

Clearly, we need to improve the web experience for our visitors. This is especially important since we released the FreeDOS 1.1 distribution in early January, which renewed general interest in FreeDOS, and increased traffic to our web site. New users who discover FreeDOS should be able to quickly and easily locate helpful information about the project via our web site.

So, I want to improve the FreeDOS web site, make the site easier to use. But I want to do this the "right" way, not some partial attempt at a redesign. And I don't want to just make the graphics prettier - we definitely need to readjust and rewrite our site content. And I'm willing to do that.

Last weekend, I posted a prototype web design to a new test site, test.freedos.org, and asked you to send your comments via a feedback form. Here are some highlights of what you've said:

What's working

  • Many of you liked that we moved the "About" content to the front page, and the "more info" clickable links (although we need to improve that bit.)
  • Screenshots of FreeDOS on the front page. We'll definitely keep this, and would plan to add screenshots of more FreeDOS applications, not just the command line. For example, we'll include screens from Dillo, OpenGEM, Mpxplay, word processors, spreadsheets, games, etc.
  • The "Download" button on the front page (but we need to find a better on-screen location for it.)

What needs to change

  • Most of you said we need to improve the content in the wiki. And we should have more links from the front page that go into the wiki - for example, the "About" content should link to the wiki tutorial on how to install FreeDOS.
  • The new design doesn't display well on smaller screens. We knew this going in, and I plan to address this for the next test version.
  • The links in the "nav" bar should be restructured to be more helpful. For example, "Links" should not be the first one in the list. These links might also be reworded to give better clues.
  • Some broken links (most notably, on our "Links" page) and other site content stuff. We'll get this updated.
  • Colors, fonts, buttons and other specific design issues.

You gave some great feedback to the scenarios, so I'm glad I thought to include that in the survey. I'll do that again for the next test version. The scenario feedback helped provide clues to where people would look to find certain information. Again, it seems clear that we need to add more links to the wiki, tutorials, and other helpful content from the "About" text. Your feedback suggests that would have the greatest positive impact in the new design, so I'll be sure to include these in the next test design.

Thank you for your comments! If you haven't posted your feedback yet, I encourage you to do so, make sure your voice is heard.

In a few days, I'll start work on a new test design, and get that posted on Friday or Saturday. We'll leave that version up for week. Depending on how that design is received, we may do another round of "usability" testing before we're ready to apply this design to the "live" site.