So anyway, I have recently been involved in the beta test of Eclipse.
It has been quite a ride.
I have not been involved in testing of any sort since doing QA on Magicka 2 some four years ago, so I am not in great shape to write a proper analysis - so I will not try either, but just write an essay as I usually do, touching on subjects as they come to mind. Also, with my meagre 7,5 EU credits of web design under my belt, I am not exactly in shape to suggest credible features nor solutions either, but I shall do my best.
Nevertheless, as there have been some heated feelings over the overhaul and how it has been announced, I do feel a disclaimer is in order: 1) For those who have not read my previous journals (as I presume most among the staff), I want to be absolutely clear I intend no insult if I write irreverently or make jokes at the expense of the design, and 2) The people whose names appear in the screenshots may not share my conclusions or endorse the suggested features; they just happened to be on screen when I subject came to mind.
I am running Windows 7 on an Intel Celeron 1,1 GHz with 4 Gbs of RAM and fully updated Mozilla Firefox. Let us dig in...
First impression when starting Eclipse compared to the old layout is that everything is very large. Not just the separate elements, but there is a lot of empty space as well. All in all Eclipse shows far fewer objects on screen at a time, be it thumbnails, comments or notifications. I ended up quickly zooming out to 80% to get the same level of overview as the old layout provided very quickly and found it far easier to navigate, if still not easy. (In this journal, screenshots from Eclipse will use full zoom while mockups use 80%).
There are occasions when the large element size works wonders, such as the front page and the DD tab - both are gorgeous! - but elsewhere, even at 80%, the large size and large areas of empty space quickly became a chore to navigate. Eclipse looks very sleek and professional in screenshots, but actually interfacing with it I often got the impression of viewing Windows through a straw; a design that seems made for a pleasing appearance first and ease of use second.
Let us take a bite out of the profile.
There is quite a difference.
First thing that comes to mind is everything is significantly larger. Second, not a whole lot of anything is shown. While the old layout shows a menu bar with dropdowns for pretty much everything you would ever like to know about somebody, the new shows next to nothing. It shows uploads, pageviews and number of watchers, along with your tagline, but nothing else. Watchers and pageviews are very prominent.
I do believe it is best I pause for a detour here, because that will be something I will return to a number of times in this entry.
I will not go into too much detail as I find it a difficult subject to write on, but I find pageviews and the number of watchers very distracting to view. On occasion, when I have felt inclined to write a journal but no subject came to mind, I have looked to see if there was a nice, round number of watchers or views that would warrant celebration. But most of the time, I find statistics stressful to view - and terribly so. It may not be apparent, but I suffer from bouts of poor self-confidence, and pressure to measure and compare can bring on feelings of unspecified inadequacy, distracting from the enjoyment and inspiration of the art and artists themselves. Sadly, I have heard many similar concerns throughout testing thus far, and it really cannot be denied the layout of Eclipse - while claiming to be about the art and artist foremost - puts a greatly increased emphasis on displaying quantifiable metrics over qualitative content.
One of the most dangerous threats facing aspiring artists, young and old, is the mistake to conflate success with self-esteem, and approval (from website systems) with success. And a demoralised artist rarely makes it back up. But enough on that matter for now.
As I heard a former CV state in no uncertain manner complaints over lack of personalisation, such as the current removal of custom boxes (a replacement may be in development) and CSS support are not welcome - a hint that should probably be taken very seriously - I will not repeat what others have already said better. And that being said, while the options that are extent do not make up for what has been lost, they are very good. The option of a header and a carousel gallery are excellent additions.
However, the header art option also has one significant problem. It is not an option.
I can see a number of problems arising from this. First, there is the obvious issue that the work of all artists is not suitable for large display; not to say anything of writers. I hear there may be standardised header images on the way, but when the option of a personal header exists, what fun is there is having a premade one? Second, not all artists may desire to have their work displayed cropped and faded - the reasons may vary, integrity of the work, stylistic preference, what have you. Third, while this is an exception, there is also the historicity aspect: Artists who are not currently active but whose work is curated on Deviantart, or deceased artists whose pages are left as-is as tributes. In the old layout those pages are perfectly viewable, but through Eclipse the profile of the venerable Amanda Payne (not deceased) looks like this:
For these reasons, I very strongly suggest header art should remain optional, and/or have optional size, with the page beginning above the username if no header art is selected.
There are also a number of peculiarities with how the header art is displayed.
It has been stated in update logs that the option to reposition and crop header art has been implemented, so I presume it is in there somewhere and I just cannot find it. For the time being, everything seems to be displayed centered and cropped to a fixed box. As a stock provider I hold in very high regard pointed out, for some this is likely to result in there being a lot of groins displayed, which may or may not be a good thing. Speaking of which, the header image currently allows mature art without restrictions. While this is not something that bothers me personally, know that the be or not to be of the mature content filter is a passionate subject for many, and can see the header image being exploited to circumvent filters as it is now. But what I find more immediately peculiar is how the header is displayed and presented.
There is currently no way I know of to display a flatter header image - it is exactly one screen tall, with fadeout into the background theme. First there is the problem that the scrollbar continues behind the menu bar and overlaps the submit button - but I find it sfe to say this is probably a bug being worked on, as several other scrollbars have also been reported as broken. The picture is also very grainy, but this as well is as far as I know a known issue. What is more peculiar is exactly what function a header image this tall serves in the current Eclipse configuration.
As shown in the pictures above, when entering a profile the viewer is presented with the owner's name about halfway down the page, little overview of the profile content, and the faded bottom of the header image. The initial state of the page is scrolled down- this may be a matter of habit, though, learning to use the built-in contextual "back to top" button rather than the controls built into standard browsers, but it feels a bit peculiar both are an option when thir coexistence in Eclipse leaves something to ask for.
Scrolling up displays the whole header, unobstructed by the profile menu bar or icons, but that still leaves an issue: The image is completely inert. This may be a design necessity as the header image is essentially a background, to avoid needlessly complex code (which Eclipse seems to have enough of, so am certainly not suggesting the inclusion of more!), but let us look at this from a different point of view.
The chief purpose of having a header image is not just to have a pretty background: It is intended to absolutely stun new visitors and make them want more - and moreso, it is intended to do so with the least amount of effort possible on part of the viewer. As it is now, the viewer has to actively seek out the full image, and when they so do there is no way of telling what it is or whence it came. Unless the same image is a featured deviation (I believe reintroducing this function has been discussed, but do not quote me on it), the viewer has to sort through the artist's galleries looking for what they first saw. Which may be considered an incentive to browse more, but when looking for something specific browsing can be a chore - and one the new galleries do little to aid in. But more on that later.
Basically, every user's page has a large empty space on top of the page that is essentially just a background.
However, among the additions to Eclipse the header art is probably among my favourites, and I can see a lot of potential in it, just being used creatively:
This is not a mockup, just scrolled up all the way and zoomed out to 80% as to not look quite as grainy as oatmeal with Guinness instead of milk.
All I can say - and I find it hard to contain the elation at this - is wow. Yes. Exactly. When I imagine a professional portfolio page, this is pretty much exactly the introduction I imagine. It feels like opening the title spread of an art book.
With just a little tweaking it would be possible to fit the profile menu bar neatly at the bottom, leaving all functionality of the current profiles accessible - with autoscrolling to move the menu bar to the top of the window when clicked, that is (it can be presumed when you click a tab, you want to see what is under it in its entirety).
I cannot put it any other way: This sort of layout is exactly what I want to see when entering a completely unknown page.
But let us say I did not, or that I already know exactly who I am visiting. In that case, I might rather be first presented with this:
Again, this is not a mockup. This is just the Eclipse profile scrolled down to show only the most vital parts of the header.
Seeing all this, it would probably be a good option to leave header images disabled by default, to preserve viewability of older accounts and for sake of users who do not wish to use a header image, or whose work is not suitable as such. Also, it would be preferable if there was the option to set header image height, choosing between full screen on banner format.
Lastly, on the browsing side, for users who are logged in and presumably visit some profiles more frequently than others, the option to set initial state to either the top of the header image or to default to profile menu bar may be useful for convenience. Some may say this takes away the artist's freedom to decide how their art is initially displayed - but with the introduction of the day/night theme this matter is completely moot anyway.
I will not speak much of the day/night theme since others, who have actual medical issues with bright light and contrast, have gone into the technical details better. All I can say is I exclusively use the night mode: The day mode is simply painful to look at, and while a third neutral option would be preferable the night mode will have to do for now.
Writing this in Eclipse, and the journal editor is very heavy on my computer. Going to split this - stay tuned for part two.