Usability Case Study: Lifehacker

I’m a bit of a Lifehacker junkie. I love all the tips and tricks that save me time and money and generally make my life just a little bit easier, from the kitchen hacks to personal finance tips to organization cheats. Unfortunately, navigating the Lifehacker web site isn’t as delightfully simple as some of their tips make the mundane tasks in my life.

The big Gawker redesign in February 2011 threw the network’s many devoted viewers for quite a loop. They got a lot of grief for the redesign, but they stuck to it. I still have some gripes about the design myself, especially with how difficult it is to navigate the archives if you just want to browse. I’ll break them down here. An interactive version is available here.

1: The logo stands out well enough. It’s not the most stimulating or attractive logo, but it’s clean—in keeping, I think, with the subject matter of the blog—and it’s recognizable, so it works.

2: First-time visitors are probably, understandably, confused by this scrolling archive. It’s not obvious, given the lack of a scrollbar and given that the only label is a small green drop-down that indicates the “Latest Stories.”

3: I love graphics. I do. But the size of this graphic forces the content—the most important thing here—way too far down the page. It also makes the front page needlessly busy.

4: I think the size and typography of the headline is fine, but I don’t think the headline should be so far down on the page. On any blog, Lifehacker included, the content is the most important thing. It should be above the fold, and it’s only barely so on this page.

5: I love Lifehacker’s category system. I love that when I hover over the category, it expands to show related categories so that I can indulge my curiosity easily. I also love the styling of the categories. The consistently bold, green category names above the article headlines are a helpful visual aid for readers.

6: The serif font of the teaser text is wonderfully easy to read. It’s a decent size, and the leading—the space between the lines of text—almost gives the impression that the text is even bigger. It’s very easy on the eyes.

7: I still think these graphics are too big. The big-graphic-over-headline-over-teaser theme that Lifehacker uses places too much emphasis on the images and not enough on the actual content.

8: I appreciate a blog’s attempts to direct visitors to other content on the site, but I think that purpose would be better served by an offering of, say, the most popular articles on the site, or the most popular categories.

9: I know this isn’t a comprehensive list of Lifehacker categories, and I’m not sure why these particular categories are listed. There’s no label to define the selected categories, just as there’s no immediate explanation for why certain categories are green rather than gray (the green categories are the ones with content featured on the front page).

10: The advertisements for the other Gawker sites are pretty unnoticeable unless the user is particularly dedicated and scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the page. I’m not sure why Gawker wouldn’t devote more real estate to their own network promotion, unless they feel like the insertion of network links into the list of related articles under each post is getting enough intra-network traffic. I also feel like listing a specific article or two or three would be more a better way to attract curious traffic than just listing categories.

11: The sad thing is that Lifehacker does provide a more traditional blog design, with recent articles listed by date. It’s easier to navigate, but you have to know to click this little eye icon at the top of the page. The option is very difficult to find, and most new visitors probably aren’t going to think to use that little icon.

12: I don’t like how hidden the search option is here. The eyeglass icon is pretty universally understood as relating to search, so that’s good, but I think search is such a regularly used feature on blogs that I think it should be placed somewhere very clear, not hidden under a light icon at the tip-top of the page.

As much as I love Lifehacker’s content, I’m not sure I’d pay the site much heed as a new visitor. I look forward to the day when Gawker decides to go back to a more usable design for the blogs in their network.

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