Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

eBay Redux

June 16, 2005

Truly, eBay is a bonafide online sales giant. So it is with great respect that I suggest that there’s still plenty of very necessary design work left to do in order for eBay to maintain its rightfully earned title as an online success. Yes, eBay does lots of things well, but the design and layout of its main page is not one of them.

eBay’s mainpage design and layout can be likened to a European walled city built back in the Middle Ages. There are pieces, elements, departments and features that have been added however they would fit – haphazardly and apparently as afterthoughts, with no regard to how a new element will affect the other elements on the page or the overall page effectiveness. The result is a main page that does not do its job very well and which fails to represent the brand as it should.

The vast majority of the page content is unnecessary and just gets in the way of what I want to do: find my category to buy, sell something, login or register.

What follows is my half-serious effort to point out problems with the main page and to present a suggestion for a better visual design and layout (but only the visual elements – as there's more to design than just these few things). I do this in order to illustrate some design fundamentals as an exercise for web designers.

I say half-serious because something as crucial as the redesign of a retail/auction website of this magnitude (or any magnitude) should involve a LOT more information than is at my disposal at this time. So what I’ll concentrate on for the purposes of this exercise are the major problems with the page and the rather generic and fundamental solutions to those issues. I’ll even implement a very standards–y and CSS–y look in my redesign suggestion, just to appeal to all of your Web 2.0 fans out there. <smirk>

The overview

Here’s a look at the current eBay main page. You’ll note that I’ve quickly labeled the various areas of the site according to what’s necessary, not necessary and out of place…

eBay today

Wow, that page is long. The main page for any site has a purpose to fulfill. This page does that, but it tries to do a host of other irrelevant things too. As a result, the page is an exercise in distraction and it lacks any sort of cohesiveness – or effectiveness. I just want most of this junk to just get outta my way. And when I say “I want…,” I’m doing my best to role play according to what I’ve learned about internet user habits. This redesign effort is not at all about what I want, but about what the majority of internet users likely want.

The vast majority of the page content is unnecessary and just gets in the way of what I want to do: find my category to buy, sell something, login or register. Yes, the long list of links on the left is a list of categories, but it is superfluous, as all of these categories already appear in the search function. Everything I want to do is at the top of the page (or bottom links). That long list takes up too much room – get rid of it.

Even the great new promotional slogan, “Whatever it is, you can get it here,” can’t be integrated with the logo because of a troublesome layout.

The holiday gift guide section almost adds a nice imagery touch to the page, but the items shown are just random items from the huge selection I already know eBay has. If I’m here to shop for Prada shoes, showing me UGG boots is not going to help. It’s too random. Get this junk outta my way!

There are some good links at the bottom, where I expect to find them, but that stuff above the bottom links is gratuitous and gaudy. It serves no useful purpose on the main page, certainly not at the bottom. All of that stuff belongs on the interior pages. Get rid of it!

And what’s with the “featured items?” Occupying a position at the bottom of the page is no way to be featured. I’ll assume that these features are important to eBay’s profit model (upselling “featured” status to sellers), so it should be featured correctly.

A lack of integrity

One of the primary problems with the current eBay mainpage is that it lacks any sort of integrity. Take the link text characteristics for instance. There are links of at least 6 different colors of text (!), both undecorated and underlined and of various font–weights, which is all very confusing (and ridiculous). eBay is one of those “lowest common denominator” sites, so let’s just make the links one color, please.

Then there’s the design. The overall theme has squared corners, but then there are those rounded corners here and there – at the top, only. The red in the layout is eBay red, but that light green used in a couple of backgrounds is awful. The various borders are of different widths, for no apparent reason. Even the great new promotional slogan, “Whatever it is, you can get it here,” can’t be integrated with the logo because of a troublesome layout. Yikes! There are other problems, but no need to pile on.

Let’s get to work

So what are the things that really need to be on this page? Starting at the top, we find nearly all of the important stuff.

The most important area of the page

We’ve got the main navigation, the search, the login and the register (1, 2, and 3 below). That nearly covers it! Everything else up here is just in my way.

Most important features of the page

There are also some good things at the bottom of the page and we should probably keep most of those elements (but not the distracting and misplaced promotions).

We need to keep all of the essentials and get rid of the chaff so that nothing gets between me and my eBay activities. I’m also thinking that we also need to make the site look a bit friendlier. Getting rid of the copious junk on the page makes it much more approachable, but using rounded corners as our overall design theme will help, too.

Font selection, especially for titles, can add a bit of friendliness and an easy–to–use appearance. Color can friendly-up a page, too, and add clues for what content is important. But we need to keep the branding in mind. Bright colors might be effective, but we shouldn’t let the page element colors dominate over the branding. Anyway, with some basic design/communication and usability concerns in mind – and a few arbitrary color and texture decisions – here’s my take on a redesign of the main page. Click the image for a full-size version.

Here's a design and layout revision suggestion

Now, the header area allows the branding and promotional slogan to work together (now and in the future), and the white space lends a bit of gravity to the branding. The main navigation has been modified and the overall navigation simplified.

The page is much shorter, meaning that the content is easier to absorb. The three most important functions of this page and the two most important banks of links have been featured, leaving all irrelevant and distracting content to disappear. The featured items are now actually featured where they’ll be seen.

The colors are vibrant, more relevant and “happier,” yet do not distract from the branding. The colors were also arbitrarily chosen, so you might have made other choices – no problem. The links are all blue now (which should be maintained throughout the site) so that there can never be any link confusion. The fonts were relegated to Arial for body copy and links, while headings use Trebuchet MS for a touch of friendliness. Again, arbitrary decisions and you might have chosen differently

Granted, this was a redesign that emphasized certain specific fundamentals and it likely has weaknesses owing to details. However, this exercise was meant to highlight some specific problems common to main pages and to illustrate some fundamental solutions. I could have chosen one of any number of websites to pick on, but eBay is a prime example for reasons that include the fact that it is such an important site with multitudes of people invested in its success. And yes, this design is a bit lacking in lustre and nuance. But that’s likely because this design was done in about 40 minutes. It won’t win any awards, but the point is that it does remedy some of the glaring problems of the current design and layout.

But I was serious when I said that design is something eBay must consider in order to continue to be an online success. It has few competitors now, but that will change. eBay can change or it can be left behind – their choice.

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