Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Volkswagen: Now Scroll

I'm surprised by how many positive comments the Volkswagen 'Now Scroll' site has been getting.

Like many web nerds, I find the recent round of scrolling effects (Nike's A Better World, The Mean Streets of Ben the Bodyguard) to be interesting demonstrations of creativity, but I think the Volkswagen site takes it too far.

Essentially, scrolling effects are interesting, can show a certain amount of creativity, but they also force a sort of sequential flow that makes it hard to quickly navigate a site to get the information that you want. If your site is a simple branding message meant to be absorbed in a sequential way, the scrolling effect can be made to work, even enhance the message. If your site is trying to communicate more information, offer creativity, navigation, different flows, then I think scrolling effects are likely to work against you.

A Better World
Nike's site is a very simple branding message, a sequence of images and simple text messages meant to be absorbed in a sequential flow. You could do the same thing as a powerpoint presentation or as a video, but for the Web, scrolling feels like the right metaphor. The transitions from image to image via scrolling give the whole thing a sort of animated, lively feeling that enhances the message.

Ben the Bodyguard
If I recall correctly, the Mean Streets of Ben the Bodyguard used to be the home page for the app. As a home page, it served as a sort of interesting interactive teaser. It was trying to get across more information than Nike, and the scrolling effect was essentially a way to get attention. In iOS, where there are lots of apps, and attention is hard to come by, that might have been a good way to get that initial rush of visitors. In the long run, however, I don't think it was a very effective way to communicate what the app does, and it's interesting to see that it is no longer the home page -- implying that Nerd Communications and APPersonality agree that a simpler site is better at communicating.

The Volkswagen scrolling site could have been good -- the overall metaphor seems to be a timeline of Beetles, which seems like a good fit for scrolling. Unfortunately, they strayed too far from the simple path and tried to mix the timeline with interactivity.

The site has navigation at the top, interactive elements with navigation inside (e.g. picture sequence dots) that aren't strictly part of the scrolling, and lots of content. Ultimately, it takes what could have bee a simple and effective message and complicates it to the point where it is neither a simple usable scroller nor a navigable, usable site. Any time you're tempted to add navigation to a scrolling-effect sequence, I think you might have gone too far.

Basically, I think it's an interesting demo, and it will undoubtedly get them a lot of attention, but I think a simpler scroller would have been more appealing to me, and that a simpler non-scrolling-effect website could have communicated the information more effectively. They may have been able to get the best of both worlds by having a simpler scrolling timeline attached to a nicely laid out but traditional website.

I also don't like the places where the Volkswagen site keeps the visuals fixed on the screen as you scroll; because I couldn't tell that anything was happening other than by looking at the scrollbar, it had a tendency to make the site feel broken to me.

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