Posted on February 27 2010 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
The biggest thing about their layout is the sheer contrast it is to not only their last layout, but pretty much the layout of every other active Zelda site. Nowhere on it is there a prominent image of the Zelda series. Now, I’m referring simply to the static layout, and not the content posted on it. The only real image I’ve found that is from the Zelda series and recognizable is down at the very bottom, with all the shortcut links. If you don’t already know where I’m going with this, then you’re in luck because I was going to explain it anyway.
Overall, the new layout looks nothing like the traditional “zelda site” and rather, looks like a generic gaming site. This isn’t to say that Zelda Informer is going in that direction, but they are certainly straying away from the typical. The layout is, as you can see simply by viewing it, sleek, functional, and mundane. There is nothing that overly stands out as “wow” about it, but rather it all goes together to form a layout that just gets the job done. Whether this atypical style will work in their benefit or not remains to be seen, but I’ve seen some pretty terrible layouts in the community over the years and those sites still exist strong, so if I had to guess, I’d say it will work extremely well to their advantage.
The above quote is from Legend of Zelda.com’s Fireside Chat. This is virtually a response piece, focused entirely on ZI 3.0 and what it represents. This of course isn’t all he had to say, as he goes on to comment on our disconnect with the community.
The first thing in the whole ordeal that strikes out to me is the comparison of our new layout to some “pretty terrible layouts” that worked out well enough for that site. I wouldn’t go as far as to say our layout is terrible, and I am not sure he (Xizor of LOZ.com) intended that to be the case. I take this mostly because his biggest complaint is that the layout is simply not “zelda” enough. It’s non-traditional, against the grain, and a first in the Zelda community. Is that all a bad thing? As I watched and pitched in opinions on the design of this layout, primarily designed by our own Phil Stetson, it occurred to me that doing what everyone else is doing just doesn’t work. Not just for the lack of originality, but for the pure advancement of the traditional navigation.
For those not aware because we are your one stop for Zelda, most navigations work very similar to our last layout. You have game icons running across the top for each game, a few “important” links such as gallery and forums, with the rest of the links running down the side in some fashion. Every now and then, you will still see an even older navigation method: Game icons running down the side, with more navigation links underneath it or to the other side in a 3 column layout. Another recent trend is to make extremely massive header images. Varying from 300px tall to 600px, appearing to be an avenue for the artistic side to come out. Never mind that the loading of such large images affects the browsing experience. Many people also marvel at Zelda Universe’s layout, which is essentially all images. Again, not taking care of user’s browsing capabilities, and causing the site to be pretty much unviewable to those with capped internet. Not to mention slower DSL connections, wireless internet, and naturally a tad more server strain for each user to be loading so much.
All of the above were trends we simply did not like. Navigation, while traditional, was becoming too clunky, even for our liking. Some of our best content, such as the Spinoffs area, was practically hidden. The comics link was buried with 40 other links. The podcast… heck you guys may not even know we have a podcast in the older navigation. Not to mention the overuse of images for game navigation where we assume everyone coming to our site knows what images and abbreviations mean. Not to mention with our plethora of unique content we really couldn’t find a way to neatly and cleanly display it all: And we have many more new ideas to play out down the line. The point is: Navigation was clunky, it’s been clunky in the community for years, and we wanted to make it as simple as possible. That was the focus of this layout.
Now, the remarks about not being Zelda enough mostly stem because there are no clearly defined Zelda artwork or symbols anywhere but the bottom of the layout. Again, we felt that that the traditional Zelda graphical styles of fansites seemed too… boring. Everyone was the same, and we wanted something clean and professional looking. Sure, maybe we could slap a triforce somewhere, but why add things to the header that are not really needed? If the giant word ZELDA isn’t enough to tell you this is a “Zelda” site, nothing is.
A huge disappointment for me, however, is their lack of forum integration. The forum layout has contrasting, dark color scheme, and the only connection it really holds to its host site is the modified banner at the top, and the URL. This is no easy way to navigate back to the front page from the forums, and it really feels as if I’d left Zelda Informer and gone somewhere else, rather than simply moved from one section of the site to another. For a site that prides itself on innovation, moving forward, and striving to be the best, especially when staffers there have expressed interest in bringing more attention to the forums, this is not only disappointing, but almost just unacceptable. Especially given their recent merging with the VGRC forums, an entirely separate gaming site, one would think that they’d pay more attention to things such as this. Whether or not this will be corrected as an update to the current layout, or in a future layout change for the site in general remains to be seen.
They have a really strong point here: The contrast is very obvious and there is no way back to the main site from the forums. To be honest, we too feel this is our weakest point yet. It does create a disconnect between our forum community and our site community. One such instance was a fan who found us through google and got to our forums. They ventured to our Chat Room from there and asked for some Spirit Tracks help. We linked them to our Spirit Tracks Walkthrough, and lo and behold they thought they were at an entirely different site. They had no idea it was the same site as the forums until we pointed it out. To me, this showed a major issue we have had with the site really since we left the red layout about 8 or so months ago.
We do “plan” to fix this forum disconnect issue. Dennis Wyman, the man who coded this layout and is a fellow co-owner, is supposedly working on a new skin this weekend and throughout the next week. The new skin will resemble greatly what the main sites looks like with clear cross links and some neat navigation. One thing we were not happy about was that this did not occur at the time of release. That along with our comment system for news posting are top priorities to fix this weekend. And to leave you guys off, I’ll let LOZ.com’s Fireside Chat have the last words:
Overall, though, the new layout, so soon after their last layout change, which came back in late July after two years with the same layout, reveals that the overall unenthusiastic response it garnered wasn’t as inconsequential to their staff as they made it appear to be. The last layout was, to put it bluntly, black and white and boring. This new layout, though divergent from typical Zelda themes, is none of those three things. Though it is neither flashy nor overly exciting, it at least is interesting and designed with striking expertise. Hopefully this foreshadows a future as bright for Zelda Informer as their new layout is compared to the previous.
Until comments are back up sometime this weekend, feel free to leave responses here.