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We highlight commercial websites that are unreasonably hard to use, don't work properly, or don't actually offer what they promise. It's a way for web developers everywhere to learn what kind of mistakes they should avoid -- and of course, an opportunity for the companies listed here to fix the problems we document.

User-hostile navigation

Willits Brand Bicycles

reviewed Dec., 2007

Regular readers know that making a minor mistake won't get a site listed on ProblemWebsites. It takes either a major mistake, or a whole slew of smaller ones. But this site is more like a combination.

Here's what greets you when you go to the home page:


At first it looks like the site won't even work in your browser. After all, you don't see a home page full of stuff, you see what looks like an error message.

In fact, it's not. They're telling you that the site won't work if you don't have the right technologies and versions installed, but the site has no idea what you actually have installed. They expect you, the web user, to know all about that. It's not enough for you to be a web user, you're expected to be an expert.

Of course, the site should just test your technologies for you and tell you there's a problem only if there's a problem.

Better yet, they shouldn't require Flash in the first place. Flash sites are universally despised because they lead to user-hostile designs, and this site is no exception.

Next, the "Enter" button is actually hidden, despite being the first thing on the page. It's hidden for four reasons:

  1. When the user expects to see the site and doesn't, the first thing they're going to do is read what looks like an error message (and be confused by it).
  2. The Enter button blends into the logo, as though it's a part of the logo.
  3. It doesn't even look like a button. It's just a random, floating word.
  4. It's not where you'd expect to find an Enter button: on the bottom of the page.

So right off the bat we have five significant problems:

  1. There's a gratuitious Enter page. This just wastes the user's time for no reason. The user should be presented with the site immediately, not required to "enter" it.
  2. The site requires Flash. Flash-based sites are often user-hostile (and this one is no exception).
  3. The site didn't test the requirements. The site has no idea whether the user's browser meets the requirements or not.
  4. The requirements message is confusing. It seems to suggest that the user's browser won't work, when in fact the site doesn't know whether it will work or not.
  5. The Enter button is hidden, for the four reasons mentioned above.

...and we haven't even entered the site yet!

And once we do enter the site, we're not surprised that the bad experience continues.

The next thing that happens is that the user gets an unsolicited Flash animation, which has three problems:

  1. It's gratuitous and pointless.
  2. It's confusing. Numbers increase from "8r" to "29r". What the hell is "r"? Is that a loading message? No idea, because if so, they don't bother to use the obvious word ("Loading").
  3. It's forced on the user. There's no "Skip Intro" button. The user has to wait and watch whether they want to or not.

Next up: Where's the address? I'm on this site in the first place because a reader suggested I list it in one of my directories. But I need to confirm the street address, and I can't find it on the site. It's not listed on the bottom of the page. There's no "Contact" link. The closest I can get is the menu item "Store", since I want to find out where the store is. So I click that....

...and get an annoying popup window! Even though I'm clicking a link within the same site, for some bizarre reason the site thinks I want another window cluttering my screen.

But the hilarity doesn't end there. The popped-up window proceeds to tell me that the site is down for maintenance. And that message is two months old!

Okay, uncle! I give up! And I don't usually let the site owners know about my listing them here, because they either usually don't care, or hurl abuse at me, or both, but I thought I'd try in this case. And in trying to do that, I face yet another problem: Because the site is done in Flash, it's impossible for me to copy the email address by right-clicking.


How Willits can fix these problems

  • Re-do the site without Flash.
  • Have the front page of the site be the front page of the site (not an "Enter here" page).
  • Make all internal links open in the same window.
  • Fix the store, or at least give an ETA for when it will be up again.
  • Include the address on the bottom of the home page, or at the very least, have a "Contact" link there.

 Update: Against our better judgement, we did let Willits know about being listed here, and not surprisingly, they defended each example of bad design above, topping it off with "You are literally the first person in over a year to complain about all this stuff."

I hear that particular excuse so often let me call it out here:

Most people don't complain about problem websites because they don't expect their complaints to be taken seriously.

They certainly weren't in this case -- which rather proves my point.