It appears that Amazon is widely testing a new homepage. I took some screenshots of the old and the new. You can get the new page by deleting your cookies and refreshing the page. Looks like it might even be a 50/50 split. Additionally, they have information about the redesign here.
At first, I was surprised. I thought, “What happened to Amazon? Where am I? Did I type in the wrong address?” Seriously, I started to get nervous. Then I saw the link on the top right that said they were ‘remodeling’ and started to calm down. I then sat and looked carefully at the new design.
The first thing that gets my interest is the new menu on the left. It is dynamic, but its really, really ugly. Why couldn’t they have some modern design on it? or at least not “ugly” design. Then when I tried to use it, I thought it was very skittish. The biggest problem has to do with menus that have a large neck. Check this close up where I show what area the neck represents. As Tog points out, the neck is a serious challenge for interaction designers because if you go from the root node directly to the spot on the menu you want, you end up closing the menu. This is because when the mouse enters the neck it triggers the onmouseOUT event and triggers the closing of the menu. That’s why it’s so skittish. My suggestion is to put a timeout on the menu and the submenu to keep the menu open for 1 second even if they put the mouse out of the menu. Give the user a little wiggle room and the menu will do better. You will be able to see the results directly on the click-through rate of the sub-items.
Additionally on the sub-menu, the clicking only works if you click directly on the word. Give the user a break. Make the whole row of the sub-menu clickable with a stronger “hover” visual design. This helps the user click on the right spot and not have to play target practice with their fine motor skills.
One other item that caught my eye was the new search bar. It’s longer, but it’s not taller. What is the point of that? Can we please put a little padding and a larger font inside the search? It’s the most important part of the page. Please give it a little more respect. It deserves some breathing room. (Example) Moving on.
The Cart and Your List buttons on the right look nice and big. However, the hover effect on the Your List also has no elegance. It abrubtly changes the color of the whole button, which now looks like a tab. This sort of device, as related to me by a UX friend is called a “Mutton”. A Menu-Button. Muttons should not change shape and color just because the menu appears. It’s distracting. Cleaning that up will increase click-through rates on the Menu part of the mutton as well. The same problem exists at the top with Todays Deals and Wish List. Man, the visual design is WEAK. Come on, how about a little attention to detail.
Amazon should read Jakob Nielsen’s post on tabs. They clearly are doing it wrong.
Lastly, I look at the overall design. No swiss layout. No visual POW. No unexpected WOW. No strong call to action. I have to admit, this kind of sucks. It is even missing the top blue bar which gave amazon a particular look. With this new design, it looks blah. I would scrap it. I don’t imagine it is improving their stats very much, but their old site was no prom queen either.
Overall, I give the control a C+ and the test a C-. For a company with alot of resources, their information architecture, visual design and interaction design sucks. They have a wonderful set of features with ratings, products, shopping cart, one-click, prime shipping and much more. It is those features which make Amazon so strong. However, they leave alot of money on the table based on their design.
Note: I have no access to their stats or design criteria, so I might be talking out of my ass. My review is based on best practice and professional opinion.