Web Evaluation
Cabe Lindsay
Peter Ghobrial
Scott Nelson
For the Web Evaluation Assignment, we decided to look at three popular websites for computer
• Dell
• Apple
• Newegg
We chose these three websites for a couple of reasons. Each of these websites is undoubtedly
popular, but our initial hypotheses about their content is what drove selection. Since we knew
each of these companies caters to a different primary demographic, we assumed their sites would
reflect different approaches with regard to Information, Interactivity, and Interface.
All three researchers participated in the stages of usability testing. We initially decided to veer
somewhat from the assignment prompt and create a persona who was searching for a new
computer. We conceived of him as an older retiree, someone without a lot of computer
experience who would like to stay in touch with family via email, VOIP, and videoconferencing.
This persona would was looking for a machine that performed what we would consider basic
social networking functions: picture editing and formatting, word processing, and surfing the
While we believe this persona is a realistic computer consumer, we felt after initial usability
testing that we weren't being fair with the companies we chose. These companies would indeed
cater to the less experienced computer consumer, one who may even be afraid of technology, but
such a demographic would not be their primary audience. As we've learned throughout this
course, designing for larger audiences is more of a challenge, and often designers must sacrifice
mass appeal in order to reach the maximum number of consumers who will most likely purchase
their products.
Although we eventually decided to change our persona to an incoming IT graduate student, this
"false start" revealed some interesting characteristics of online computer sales. The primary
target for these sites is obviously not an elderly consumer looking to stay in touch with family.
While there may be features directed at this demographic, many of them are reached through
various clicks and scrolling, effectively hiding the "beginner" features from the very
demographic who would be most likely to grow frustrated and leave the site early. The lack of
directed design for this demographic represents a gap in the market, one that we could conceive
of as being filled by a start-up looking to fill the niche. Younger generations tend to be less
fearful of technology, and thus may have more patience regarding "hidden" design features.
Perhaps a website could be designed that caters to older users of technology. We conceive of
such a website consisting of uncluttered navigation features coupled with tutorials and wizards to
walk these consumers through the process. While the specific design of such a website is outside
the scope of this assignment, it could prove fruitful for future study.
All of the research team gathered individual notes while perusing the websites. What we looked
for was simplicity in design for the tasks we thought would be rather common in computer
shopping. Each site needed to have simple search features with customizable options for various
levels of experience with online shopping. Computer specifications can be overwhelming for
most consumers, so we looked for features that helped mitigate this information overload. While
some IT graduate students come from design or computer science backgrounds, often (as
evidenced in our group's makeup) "graduate student" encompasses many levels of experience
and varied educational backgrounds.
Once individual notes were collected, we met to compare and discuss our findings. Through
these meetings, we decided to group our assessments in the larger categories of Information,
Interactivity, and Interface, and to rate each site from one to five with regard to these categories.
Our graduate student user is busy (as most graduate students are), and we felt that he needed to
be able to get into the site, find what he needed, and get out relatively quickly. That is, he
wouldn't be "window shopping." He would have a general idea of what he needed to do with his
machine, but wouldn't necessarily be familiar with how specifications contribute to those tasks.
We did, however, assume that he would be interested in "primary" specifications for a computer:
processor speed, memory, video card, hard drive size, and media input/output options.
For our deliverable stage of the project, we divided tasks according to strengths. Cabe, being a
web designer by trade, was in charge of static image and PowerPoint production. Peter, from an
IT background, volunteered to create our screencasting videos. Scott, a writing teacher, crafted
the text. All participated in reviewing and revising the various forms of media.
The following are our conclusions regarding the design of the three websites, broken down by
company and then the three I's. After that, we present a comparison matrix of all our findings.
Apple is often billed as providing a consumer's machine -- a closed system that works without
much "looking under the hood." From this conception, we assumed that their website would be
designed in much the same way: simple design and a lot of "hand-holding" in terms of
True to our hypothesis, Apple's web design is minimalist. At the time of this writing, the
homepage features a banner at the top with navigation tabs. The main portion of the page is
filled with advertisements for the new iPad. Once inside the Apple store, we found it uses a
basic three-column layout, with navigation menus in the left- and right-hand columns. Apple
uses a continuous visual framework throughout the site, allowing for ease of navigation among
the different pages of products. There are no roll-over or drop-down menus to cover up parts of
the screen, leaving the stage free from extraneous clutter. Each click takes you to a new page
with similar layout, and there are breadcrumbs to find your way back. The center stage is
reserved for information regarding their products whether that be advertising or more
specialized information, such as navigating to pages for education pricing.
The left column begins with Apple's most common products: Macs, iPods, and iPhones. By
placing these links at the top, Apple insures the most commonly followed links are
immediately discernable. However, for a consumer who knows what type of performance he
wants (like our grad student), he must look about a fourth of the way down the page before
finding the "Build a Mac" option, and this is hidden in a tab menu in an unconventional place - tabbed menus normally appear at the top of the page, and this tab menu gets lost in the
various information in center stage.
We felt that information was Apple's weakness. While there are various places for the
consumer to learn more about the products, Apple's branding presents a bit of a problem. The
designers of Apple's website assume you're familiar with Apple's naming conventions, and thus
there are no labels for generic product types -- only branded products themselves. In order to
shop Apple's site, you must first know some things about their products. Desktop computers
from Apple are called iMacs, Mac Pros, or Mac Minis; notebook computers are referred to as
Macbooks, Macbook Pros, or Macbook Airs. Although Apple's site attempts to mitigate this
confusion with pictures at the top of the page, you'd still need to know that an iMac is a selfcontained computer, rather than just a monitor.
Apple does provide pages for learning more about their products. However, these pages are
often linked to from small text within a larger stage.
The main interactive features on Apple's website are highlighting links upon rollover. These
help to define the clickable field.
With the aforementioned "Build a Mac" tab, there are no interactive links within it to direct
you to a customization page. Instead, it only provides information on steps you could take
(rather than walking you through those steps). To remedy this, we would suggest a wizard that
is linked to from that tab.
Some of our preconceived notions about Dell were confirmed, while others to be adjusted. Dell
has established an ethos of utility -- equally comfortable serving both the retail and business
sectors of personal computing needs. We expected Dell to present more information, as it did,
but were surprised at the range of interactive features it provides. Overall, we believe Dell does
a good job with Interactivity and Information, but falls short when it comes to Interface.
Like Apple, Dell uses a banner, tabs, and breadcrumbs to provide a continuous visual
framework. It is possible to navigate the site easily, but this is only achieved once you get past
the first couple of pages. Dell commits the error of interface overload. It's layout reminded us
of a Sunday newspaper insert, packed with ads and distracting colors. Even when you make it
into one of Dell's better features -- such as the personalization wizard -- their use of bright,
clashing colors draws your eyes erratically around the page.
Dell does a particularly good job of providing information to the consumer, if the consumer is
able to block out some of the interface flaws. Dell gives you the option of chatting with an
expert online, or even entering your phone number and having a representative contact you.
The site notices when you've been clicking around for awhile and suggests these options.
However, it may be that Dell errs too much on the side of information. By providing so much
of it for our prospective consumer, Dell may effectively drown out the focused information
he's seeking.
Layout aside, Dell provides various ways for the website to respond to user inputs. Once the
user locates the "Personalize" or "Checkout" buttons, he is guided step by step through
building and buying a personal computer. For example, at each stage of the "personalize"
wizard, the user is asked relevant questions as to what components he needs. The wizard keeps
a running tab of the computer's price, allowing a feedback mechanism the user may alter at any
time in the process.
The first page of the Product Advisor gives the user slider bars to rate the digital activities most
conducive to his lifestyle. The sliders provide instant feedback to the user inputs, giving
colored bars to show the ranges selected. Also, in lieu of the slider bars, Dell provides three
basic preferences in the form of checkboxes for the consumer to choose: "Practical and Value
Focused," "Latest and Greatest Technology," and "Stylish and Personalized." These options
facilitate emotional connections with the product, as the user is essentially defining a
personality type and having Dell match their products to that personality.
Our initial hypotheses about Newegg focused on what we believed to be its main customer
base -- consumers who are fairly knowledgeable about computers, including the inner
workings of the machines. Our usability testing confirmed many of these conceptions. Newegg
provides various searching options for different levels of expertise, and copious amounts of
information regarding computer specifications. Overall, it contrasts with Apple's design, and its
layout is similar to Dell's.
Like Dell, Newegg's site suffers from crowded layout. It again reminded us of a Sunday
newspaper insert. Newegg's homepage is the opposite of Apple's: there are no columns, only
dropdown and rollover menus. The small fonts and sheer number of navigation menus could
prove too much for our consumer. Once inside the site itself, Newegg defaults to a threecolumn structure, with navigation menus in the right and left columns. Unlike Apple, however,
the left column is reserved for navigating different product menus, while the right column is
for navigating customer reviews and polls. In a slight contrast with Dell's layout, Newegg
makes better use of whitespace in the center stage to separate products. While still crowded,
these product units avoid distracting color schemes.
As mentioned above, we expected Newegg to provide the most information to its targeted
demographic. Surprisingly, though, Newegg does a good job of presenting some information
on demand. While shopping for desktops, our consumer is presented with two to three pieces
of information about the machines: processor speed, memory, and occasionally data input
devices. However, the titles of the products are often long and complicated, often providing
more spec information than the bulleted lists below them. For our particular consumer, this
could cause information overload.
Like Dell, Newegg excels in interactivity. However, unlike Dell, this interactivity is designed
for the more self-motivated consumer, meaning most interactivity is contained within the site's
search features, rather than wizards. In the top left column of each page, the user is given four
options: Guided Search, Advanced Search Power Search, and Learning Center. The placement
of these options affects the site's Interface, but even including them increases the Interactivity
of the site.
With these options, the user can customize searches throughout the site, honing their searches
by various options. In addition to be able to narrow searches by the more common categories
of price, manufacturer, CPU speed, and HDD capacity, the user is given links to
"Recommended Use" choices and "Useful Links," allowing the consumer to narrow by "Top
Selling," "Recertified," and "Free Shipping."
There are a few design flaws, though. The heavy use of drop-down and rollover menus
obscures the main page, and feedback when selecting different search options is not mapped
particularly well. For example, when selecting "Advanced Search," a small arrow pointing to
the right shows the option has been selected. However, that arrow also led us to believe that a
slide-out menu would appear. Instead, the center stage and the navigation menu below the
option changed.
Apple seems to veer toward providing less information to its customers than Dell or Newegg.
While Both Dell and Newegg present more information, both sites sacrifice a clean layout with
easy navigable menus.