Many findagrave.com members have heard that a new version of the website was forthcoming. The beta version has arrived and members have been testing it out and sending in feedback about the site. I had taken a cursory look a few weeks ago, but I came across a recent Facebook post bemoaning the design of the new site complete with plenty of gang-on comments complaining about the design and features and I had to take a second, more in-depth look.
Full disclosure: I work in a web-focused field. For nearly 20 years I’ve been building websites, exploring user experience and web design principles, and keeping as educated as possible on of accessibility and usability. I’ve found that even when I have an immediate negative reaction to design I’m always looking beyond things like color choice to assess the actual usability of a site. Because let’s face it, colors that I find garish are possible to look past when the site is intuitive.
So let’s take a look at the new homepage:
I appreciate that a comprehensive search is front and center. When typing in the “cemetery or city, state, country” box you get a pop-up list of possible matches. This is a nice feature, but it only seems to search against exact names of cemeteries. For instance, you’re looking for Arlington in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania you’ll only find it by entering Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. This is unfortunate, considering the often misnamed cemeteries or those with different possible variations, and may lead to more duplicate cemeteries being created.
The ‘action’ icons below the search to add a memorial, upload photos, transcribe photos, or visit the forums are well placed. The old site had way too many links on the homepage and maintained too much focus on famous graves. Although famous graves were the reason the site was begun in the first place, it has been many years since that was the focus.
Now a look at a memorial page:
I actually like everything about the new memorial except the photos. The image in the header and the photo cluster next to the biography section are oddly sized. I do like that the photo cluster opens in a pop-up for larger sizes that you can easily scroll through. Now, on a mobile screen these images work much better even though they could be larger there as well. It’s smart to design for mobile first and work your way up to larger devices and I have to imagine a good portion of findagrave’s traffic is coming from people using smartphones or tablets. So it’s a great choice to optimize for those devices. But the images on larger devices should absolutely be larger on a laptop or desktop. The puny 150 pixel tall image doesn’t cut it, especially with the amount of surrounding gray space.
Ultimately, I believe this new site will be far easier to use, especially for new members. The fact that the site is responsive and adjusts to the size of your screen was an absolutely necessary update and is generally well designed. The search is mostly easier to use and the new site has increased readability.
But the comments I’ve read from other findagrave members are largely negative. Things along the lines of “they’ve ruined the site” or simply “it’s ugly”. In my experience you can never please everyone with design choices. People get used to the way a site looks and functions, even if the functionality isn’t intuitive and they have to train themselves to find things or perform specific actions. While some members will likely walk away or decrease their activity, in the long run these changes were a long time coming and will only increase the efficacy of the site.
Want to check it out? Visit gravestage.com.