“Add too many bells and whistles and a website can become a circus.”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many more words do we get for color and animation? Whatever the number, Cipher Data Resources, Inc. has capitalized on the concept with a splash screen in Flash technology (This is an application for websites that creates fast animation without needing a lot of storage space). It is highly effective as well as fun to watch. The original purpose of a splash screen in computer programming was to give the viewer a fast-loading, attractive screen to look at while the rest of the program loads. With the speed of modern computers, it is hardly needed. The concept has been carried over to web design and it is still useful. However, in this case, the idea is to mesmerize the viewer with a spectacular display of visual effects.
The website is www.cipherdata.com. I talked with Steve Bristol, president of Cipher Data, and he explained to me that their goal when designing the site was to get people to spend a brief time learning about their product and inspire them to download the software. The download is free, although there is a subsequent cost for each report generated by the software. The reports analyze Federal tax returns. There are many potential uses for the reports generated by the software but they all focus on the concept of qualifying a self-employed borrower.
When a website’s mission includes the task of introducing a new concept, I think it is really important to include a tour. Cipherdata.com uses a very simple, yet effective self-guided tour. It shows a sample of the screens in the software using a thumbnail layout. A click enlarges each thumbnail. The next stage of the tour shows samples of the reports generated by the software. During this stage of the tour, they use a clever effect. When you hover your mouse over various sections of the reports, the sections enlarge. This is accompanied by a narration of the benefits generated by the report.
The design of the website is solid. After the flashy intro screen, the designers settled back into using the basics of consistent screen layouts and easy-to-follow prompts. They use very few action buttons and provide extremely subtle hypertext. This has the subliminal effect of implying importance to the content in the website, rather than the mechanics of the site. They continue this strategy by using only two basic colors – powder blue and mustard. While the colors are soft, they add pizzazz in a quiet way with shading and shadows.
There is another nice feature that hammers home their message. The option bar that we are so used to seeing, on the left side of the screen, usually opens secondary levels in the website. In the Cipher site, we see potential beneficiaries of the product instead of feature buttons. The list includes various entities in the lending business (such as loan processors, underwriters, mortgage brokers) and when you click, a legal pad in the center of the screen lists benefits provided to these people. It is a clever technique.
When evaluating this site, it could be easy to underrate because it is not spectacular. However, it is effectively designed to do what it was intended to do. Add too many bells and whistles and a website can become a circus. If the web layout is too resplendent, the user can overlook the basic message. Based on the objective of the website and analyzing how the layout of the site accomplishes that objective, I would say the that the designers did a good job. Therefore, the rating for this website is very good.
by Thor Skonnard