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Boo.com were too focused being innovative and paid too little attention to basic usability.
The design seems to be driven by these assumptions about the user:
Boo.com is a visual experience. Enough said.
No content is presented at the Boo.com homepage. Before entering the actual site users need to choose between 18 countries and two graphical modes (why not start in English in some standard mode?).
These choices lead to a slow-downloading home page filled with animations and graphics that provide little information. It also enables users to view products in 3D.
Download times are in general slow despite optimized graphics (1 KB) and image items (5-15 KB). The problem gets much worse when viewing products in the 3D product viewer on the site. I believe mainstream users will drop this feature after two tries as it is too slow to use and too difficult to control in a mouse interface.
Boo.com presents the screen in a small browser window shown in the same way to all users. This leads to the use of small fonts, which are difficult to read and cannot be upscaled in the users browser window.
Also, standard page navigation is not supported. For instance, page down-scrolling is not possible in product overview pages; pages cannot be bookmarked as URLs are hidden; users are also prevented from interlacing (e.g., view two product in two different browser windows), which is unfortunate as interlacing is a common user behavior.
Update (October 31, 2000):
Miss Boo is back. Boo.com has reopened as a vertical portal that reviews and recommends fashion wear products. The site opens with a Flash intro that downloads slowly. Still, usability on the new site has been improved compared to the old design:
Other usability problems remain: Download time is long everywhere. Clicking is extremely cumbersome as links are hidden. Searching for the next link seems to be an important part of the intended user experience (no kidding!).
- URLs are now visible and remarkable simple. It is actually possible to bookmark and email URLs. Very nice!
- The homepage is more usable than before. Content is presented directly on the homepage (once it has downloaded :-) without opening any new browser windows. The old site opened several new windows and required country selection before entering the site.
- Browser window size has been optimized to a 800x600 display making usage more comfortable. Still, users need to browse a lot of pages to find the products they are looking for -- only six products are shown on product overview pages.
- Text sizes have become slightly larger. However, text sizes remain non-changeable making reading hard for users with reading disabilities.
Navigation support is shown as an attempt to help users understand where they are (e.g., shop:men:walk) - unfortunately it is neither obvious enough nor used consistently. Back-button does not work from homepage to the previous website.
Bottom-line: Boo.com no longer has the provocative/innovative Web design that helped make it famous (and contributed to its financial death).