This forum upgrade has been painful all around, and it's frankly pretty infuriating to longtime readers. But instead of flying off in a rage, I've decided to start writing down a more constructive list of what's wrong. This is something my wife and I do for a living, so I'm inclined to be unforgiving with this kind of thing. Character and design style is one thing, but poor usability is another.
To be fair the previous forum had horrible usability problems, too. And I know that Parallax isn't building this software themselves, so they're not in total control here and just trying to work what they've got. That said, this system is so bad I have to either get this stuff off my chest, or simply abandon these forums and in turn Parallax. So I criticize because I love, and I want this forum (and Parallax) to have exemplary UI/UX ("user interface"/"user experience").
I've attached a screenshot of what I see in my browser, which is Firefox on MacOS 10.10.
Threads are automatically sorted by votesI missed Chip's update on the P2 in the "Prop-2 Release Date..." thread! I only knew of it because of the replies which were at 0 and therefore sorted by date. If I wanted to see his update (votes==2), I'd have had to go to the first page. Amazingly unintuitive, and kinda unforgivable.
This is not reddit. Sorting by vote doesn't make sense in a linear forum context, which is what I think most users will expect. More generally, sorting by vote doesn't make sense with pagination.
Left/right paddingYou're giving up a LOT of screen real estate and cramming the entire forum into a pretty small space with the large padding on the left and right. No padding would be bad, but crunching everything together is worse. I can make my browser thinner if I have to, but I can't make it wider than the screen.
The thread listing is very clutteredThe cognitive overload of the thread listing page is terrible, and it's a result of poor UI/UX and design choices (or not choosing). Ask yourselves: "When a user is looking at this page, what is the #1 thing they want to see?" To me the answer is obvious, that they want to see what threads are updated since their last visit, but I'll concede that there is no right answer to this question. Whatever the case, it doesn't appear that this was considered.
* The navigation breadcrumb trail "Home > Microcontrollers > ..." is some of the smallest text on the interface, it's gray, it has no whitespace around it, and it is unaligned. Despite being a critical navigational element, it's almost as if you want people not to see it. One of the most important questions a UI can answer for a user is "Where am I?" How this is answered should pervade the UI and should be one of the most accessible and immediate pieces of interface. This also applies to the forum description above the list of threads (light gray text, disappears into the background).
* The number of thread replies and thread views is the heaviest and largest text on each thread listing, but it's likely the least important piece of information a reader will want to know. Replies is more important than views as it gives an indication of where the other forum participants are communicating.
* The entire "Views" column can go. I'm sure it's of interest to the handful of people at Parallax who monitor the forums for interest and engagement, but I'd argue it's mostly irrelevant to the hundreds (thousands?) of forum participants.
* The "Started By" column can also probably be removed, or at the least moved to a reduced size byline under the thread title. What is clear is that it isn't such an important characteristic of a thread that it needs to be the second column in the table.
* In the "Started By" and "Most Recent" columns the user avatar, the user handle, and the date are not aligned. I'm not sure it's meaningful to have those three pieces of information together, but right now it's very difficult to visually scan the column for thread freshness.
* The star function is unclear. I assume that marks a thread as one of my favorites? You're basically creating a bookmarking system that only works on this site, and will likely get lost when you upgrade forum software again in a couple years. Is this a feature that you guys think people are clamoring for, or was it done because it seems like every other software interface has this these days? Also, long thread titles overlap with the star on Firefox.
The entire left column can goThe left column has a bunch of trendy information that is of dubious value. Worse, you're sacrificing 25% of the screen real estate for these things.
* "New Discussion" is the most visually prominent thing in the UI. It's bright red, has large bold text, is the only interface element with white text, is the only interface element that has centered text, is the only interface element with a depth (3D) treatment, and has more padding than most interface elements. Is it really the one thing that users will be doing more than anything else?
* Why is "New Discussion" in the left column, anyways? The left column is given entirely to navigation, except that. Also, when you create a new thread it's created in the context of the forum you're in, so if the left hand column is for things conceptually "above" threads, why is a call to action there? Creating a new thread should be visually associated with the thread listing.
* What is "Popular"? Is that threads that have the most views? Replies? Within what timeframe? Popularity is a very loaded term when it comes to forums, and I can't see why it's of use to most users. Maybe for the forum admins that's golden, but I can't imagine users coming to this forum with an empty head asking "let's just see what's popular and go from there"
* Why do I need a "Categories" link if all the categories are listed right there? I guess it gives you a birds-eye view of all the forums, but for the link that takes you to the top level to be tucked between "Popular" and "Recent Discussions" is non-intuitive.
* What is "Activity"? Is it all posts listed in order of submission? That's useless.
* Do I need a "My Discussions" link to show me what threads I've started if I can see that from my profile? I do believe that finding your own threads is an important forum function, but it's available elsewhere and doesn't need to be on every single interface.
* Are "CATEGORIES" the same as forums? It appears that way, but how would a user know without comparing the results of clicking around?
* Users are notoriously ambivalent about tag clouds, generally tuning them out as visual noise. They were the rage 10 years ago but quickly wore out their welcome, there's a reason you almost never see them now. Tags as a navigation tool aren't terrible, but they don't need to be so prominent.
Ok, so there's nothing really of value on the left-hand column, so why not get rid of it and have more room for actual forum content?