Planet Anarky – George's blog

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Navigation hierarchy and priorities:

Be warned: this post has tried to be funny in certain areas. Remove your sense of humour now.

A critique of

I will preface everything I’m about to say with the fact that this site has managed to win the Drapers “Footwear eTailer of the year ’08” award. Not only is that Draper’s award site a bit drab, I can only wonder what the judging criteria were for that award, since the Schuh site’s definitely not supporting their brand in a positive way. Whilst it’s clearly functional and ‘works’, it’s looking in desperate need of a redesign. Read on!


Firstly, some serious thought needs to go into finding out what users want to achieve when they hit the site. A trawl through their site analytics should reveal this.

  • Do they want to buy online?
  • If so, what’s the split of men vs women?
  • Do they want to locate a store?
  • Are they loyal Schuh activists who want to participate on the forum?
  • Shoe fetishists who linger for hours at a time in the high-heels section?

Secondly, what do Schuh want to use this site for?

  • Online sales?
  • Brand building/support?
  • Online resource of some kind?

Whatever the reasons, they need to be teased out of their site stats and business goals respectively, and a sitemap/structure built with them in mind. Site hierarchy – even down to folder naming conventions and file names – need to be relevant and make sense.

Design templates

The current site does have relatively consistent templates in place, albeit with some apparently random graphics in them. Seriously, don’t underestimate the power of good (or bad, for that matter) imagery: it can totally make-or-break your site.

I’ve gotta say that the Schuh site has a fairly … well, bizarre approach to graphics. This screenshot was taken whilst in the men’s shoes section…yet we have two suitably cat-like women sat in what looks like a Matrix remake, about to be savaged by a giant mouth.

Yeah, that really says ‘Mens shoes’ to me, too.

And what is with the seemingly unregulated use of dots and upper/lower case? view.all / VIEW.BRANDS / do.THIS / DO.that… I’ve no problem with using ‘edgy’ dot-placement, but it needs to be consistent. Make sure it’s the same throughout the site – menus and all. The same applies to the case of the lettering: UPPER or lower case. Make a choice. Stick with it.

So in conclusion, the current pages are functional, but not exactly what I’d call on-brand. Unless the brand guidelines specify giant mouths and a game of dot-placement like ‘pin the tail on the digital donkey’.

The site really cries out for consistent templates that will make the most of the available space and allow the user to achieve what they want in the quickest time possible. As a rule, good site information architecture (IA) in conjunction with solid online brand guidelines will make for a pretty bullet-proof experience.

As always, simplicity is key. Steven Krug’s book title “Don’t make me think” is what you’re trying to achieve: make it bloody obvious where to go. Don’t confuse the user with excessive or irrelevant content at the wrong stage, or bizarre pointless graphics.

And make sure they’re standards compliant too.


Your nice new templates will then need to be put to the internal test: wireframing. Mock up some simple examples of the new homepage, 1st level/2nd level pages in wireframes. This way, you start to get an idea of what elements will work in-page. Get them in front of some colleagues who perhaps aren’t in the web team, and get some basic feedback. If you’ve time, indulge in some paper prototyping with them.

You’ll need scissors, paper, and a marker pen. You might need to find a responsible adult to help you with this.

Check that your templates work: usability

Once your templates have been through internal signoff, have some HTML pages made with them and get some usability studies done on a representative sample of your customer base (or target market if you’ve no customers yet).

Usability is utterly invaluable: I cannot stress that enough. Sitting behind closed doors making decisions about what you think your users want will only get you so far because you will be waaaay too close to the site journey. Of course, experience plays a part here – if you’ve been doing it for 10 years, you’ll no doubt have a good idea already. Still, it’s worth doing.

Usability test centres will usually offer a multitude of facilities including eyetracking, heatmapping, exclusion mapping and more. You tend to get a nice report at the end of it (that will either support or disprove your design choices), detailing the successes/failures/action points and so on.

They also tend to feed you more cookies and sandwiches than you could possibly ever manage on your own, which is nice.

There’s nothing more enlightening than watching users unsuccessfully navigate round your site – your site that you thought was so well laid out and simple to use. You will, at times, probably find yourself in the viewing room, shouting something along the lines of “Click the ‘Next’ button! The NEXT BUTTON! It’s right there! Why can’t you see it?!”

You’re on a tangent now really, aren’t you?

I’ve gone a bit off track here – so back to the Schuh site. If you’re still reading, you’re probably knackered, so in conclusion:

  • The homepage is pretty chaotic with all elements trying to compete for your attention: it wants to do everything, all at once. Mens? Womens? Search? News? Giftcards! Brands! They’re all on there. Sort it out.
  • Whilst there’s a good indication of where to go to start looking for shoes (the mens vs. womens footwear is very dominant), it’s a bit of a bombsite to say the least.
  • Site templates are lacking in navigational, brand and element consistency.
  • The ‘Sale’ section is a bit misleading, as it looks virtually identical to the main site’s homepage.
  • An eBay store link…on the homepage?! THIS is confusing. Does this mean you don’t want to sell stuff on your own online store? Do you have stock that’s only available on one site and not the other? Are they all Buy It Now? Is the stock in the eBay store second-hand?
  • It’s all built in tables. Tables are bad, accessibility-wise.
  • I couldn’t find the shoes I wanted. But that’s because they don’t stock them.

Finally, the Schuh site also misses another trick: waaaay back up at the top of this post, I mentioned finding out what their users want as a key factor in site design. There are companies that have developed software that will integrate with your site, allow you to upload (for example) a stack of different creative treatments for the homepage, and it will then learn which creative content is the most popular/generates the most click-throughs, and serve up that content dynamically.

…but that’s a whole other post. :)

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  1. Lee FaetzJune 17, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    We always welcome and are very interested in finding out what people’s opinion is of our site.

    We won the Drapers eTailer award because of the products we offer across all of our channels (eBay, Amazon,, Viva La Diva and Shoe-shop) and how well we integrate this offering seamlessly between our websites and our stores. It’s a very hard task to be able to provide a site that is both constructed for design and functionality. We know that it’s not the prettiest site on the block but its work in progress.
    From your post you seem to have very passionate views in this field. I just thought I would mention that we currently have a position available for web developer, so if you feel you have the necessary skills to make a real difference on then we would welcome you to apply.

    Lee Faetz
    Internet Maager Schuh Ltd

  2. GeorgeJune 17, 2008 at 6:35 pmAuthor

    Hi Lee,

    Firstly, thanks for your upfront comment! I tried to be constructive as well as inject a bit of humour, as the Schuh site obviously does the job in hand: I just felt it could compliment the brand so much more. Also, I completely understand the frustrations of making an aesthetically-pleasing-yet-functional site!

    Secondly, thanks for pointing me in the direction of the vacancy. I’m not sure I’d be suitable for a developer role (although I do have skills in HTML/CSS/some Javascript): I tend to be more involved in web content management, online brand guidelines and email marketing.

    Thanks again for your comment. :)

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