Design Audit: Oblong.com

Caveat here:  This audit was not solicited by Oblong.  They are simply a fascinating company which a less-than fascinating web presence.  It’s fairly common to have really smart people who don’t pay much attention to design, though this may not be the case with Oblong.  Also, these audits focus not just on design, but on branding, identity, and occasionally product.  Given that all I know about Oblong I have derived from their site, some of my assumptions may be wrong, but these wrong assumptions may also be shared by other site visitors, who certainly know no-more about Oblong than I do.

This is their current site, which you can also find at Oblong.com, followed by my audit.

 

1. Logo and header


I am not feeling this logo at all.  It does look intriguing, but ultimately does not represent the company.  Two things that come to mind when seeing this logo. DNA fingerprints and Scantrons.  Neither conjure up anything to do with what Oblong does. This header also needs help.  The logo links to the homepage so a “home” link becomes redundant.  “Offerings” is just an odd word to use here.  Oblong is a company that produces a product and a service.  Maybe they are trying to combine those into one word, but it feels off.  When someone has a “product” to sell, I can evaluate it.  When they have something to “offer” I am looking for the catch.  Jobs should be combines with People and no one cares about your blog.

2. Leading copy

Why use the word “industries”?  It’s confusing.  Oblong is a startup and certainly doesn’t have enough employees or customers to be a single industry, let alone plural.  This leading statement can be a little scary to visitors as well.  It feels high-risk both on the potential customers point of view, and Oblongs’.
This sub-statement starts off strong, then degenerates into nerd speak, “multiple participants, working in proximity and remotely, using a groundbreaking spatial interface to control applications and data spread across every display.” That’s quite a mouthful, then hilariously they bracket it with.  “This is what Oblong builds.  It’s why we’re here.” Ok…so what does Oblong build?  Visitors are going to be giving you half their attention at best.  If you do something complex, then reduce it to a few words and a picture (which is 1,000 words).

3. Video


This is a good video.  Lots of cool things going on, some good music.  But the problem is that it’s too conceptual.  Visitors will watch it and try to envision how they will use the product.  Certainly navigating a matrix of chinese characters is not a goal.  The main thing lacking from Oblongs site is social proof, which is CRITICAL when you selling something over $10k.  So Oblong should take the opportunity to make a video that does double duty.  It should show off how an existing company uses their product.  This can provide the whiz-bang visuals but also reinforce that Oblong is NOT in the R&D phase (which is the vibe the current video gives).

4. Explanatory copy


I’ve seen some poorly named products before but g-speak is a real head scratcher.  As far as I can tell, g-speak has nothing to do with speaking or speech.  You would think it might be some voice recognition technology.  For this reason, it’s just a terrible name.  Also, the signifier “g”, for most people, refers to two things, gravity and gangsters. Not ‘gesture’ as may be the case here.  Further more, the text blurb here doesn’t really explain the product at all.  Just because you define what SOE means, doesn’t mean you can just use it all over the place and it won’t trip people up. Memory is a muscle that requires repetition.

5. News


Companies care about what they are up to, other people don’t.  News is not important to the first time visitor and it’s a waste of valuable space.  Ideally, this stuff should be pushed to a twitter feed or in the “about us” page which is where people go to seek out news.

6. Product differentiation


So it looks like Oblong has three…. offerings here.  But it’s actually much more confusing that that.  Two of them, ‘platform’ and ‘client solutions’ deal with g-speak, which is also a product.  So as a visitor, can I get mezzanine as a client solution?  Does g-speak come as a product?  Whats the different between products and solutions?  There isn’t a clear path for the user to take and the blurbs underneath do not help much.  Also there are no images.  WTF is Mezzanine?  Why should I click that button?

7. Company history


So is company’s history important enough to put on the home page?  Yes, in the case of Oblong.  They deal with complex and future leaning stuff, as a visitor I actually want to put that and the company into perspective.  Oblong has some very cool things in their history including Tom Cruise and TED, but they are not fully exploiting it.  The part about Minority Report is called “g-speak at 24 fps” and has a diagram on how to perform a two handed shove.  And where is the TED video?  That is a missed sales opportunity, big time.

Conclusion:

The page is very unfocused and is full of missed opportunities.  There is far too much text for an incredibly visual product.  Oblong should check their site analytics to see what the time-spent on this page is.  Then time themselves reading everything on the page.    Visitors are going to miss information, you can’t control that.  But you can control how much they miss by controlling how much they get.  More visuals and less text will keep them on point.

So I went ahead and redesigned the homepage on what I think will work best.   Click the image below to enlarge.

 

1. Logo

Yes I changed that terrible logo.  Now it’s like a hand, which is pretty central to what Oblong does.  It’s a logo that I can remember and invoke Oblong when I see it.  “Oh, it’s that company that does that futuristic hand stuff.”  Instead of “oh it reminds me of taking the SATs (Scantron)”.

2. Header

A cleaned up header.  This is all you really need.  “What we do” would go to your product page and “Who we are” will go to your team/jobs/blog/news page.  This is much more compelling than “people.”  A contact link, which is essential a call to action for Oblong, should always be in the header.

3. Leading statement


A short and impactful statement.  It can either imply that the future is something you have now, as in “in your hand” or that the future “is your hand” which is Oblongs product.  Good and short copy sets the tone for the entire experience.  Imagine Oblong is a stranger who knocks on your door.  You open it and they say “Oblong Industries is remaking the world of computers!”  Holy shit!  Should I hide in the basement?  Unplug the toaster?  What?  Now if Oblong said “The future is in your hand”, well then that is pretty cool.  Tell me more.

4. Images


Images, Images, Images.  From these three images I already know more about what Oblong does than the previous paragraph of explanation.  I am also totally intrigued because this looks cool.  These images are actually vidcaps from the video as I couldn’t find any better examples.

5. Explanitory copy

This is your opportunity for a few more words.  Not a whole paragraph, people aren’t ready for that.  It’s a teaser for the video it’s pointing to.  In this case, paragraphs of text will not sell me.  Videos will.

6. Video


I am using the screenshot from their video, but as I explained above, this should be a REAL WORLD customer centric video.  It can have all the cool stuff in it, but I want to know that paying customers are using it, not just a few guys playing next-level mahjong.

7. History


A great opportunity to name drop here.  MIT, Minority report, TED, etc.  I’ve reduced it to only what matters.  It all leads to their commercial solutions.  This is a tabbed navigation thing similar to what they have now.  And get that god damn TED video in there.

8. Products


Oblong, you have two products.  Not one product, one platform, and client solutions.  Two products.  One of the products has a platform component, but it’s still a product.  Client solutions can really apply to both.  Mezzanine is your flagship product, as stated by your homepage.  Odd that it’s not featured.  Well now it is.  An image and some text is what is needed.  I just copied your text here because I was lazy but I would re-write that copy to something friendlier.

Social proof.  This is what B2B is all about, reducing risk.  Oblong’s products have LOTS of risk, being on the cutting edge so show me some companies that are actually using the product.  Logos is fine here as the video above is doing the same job.

These buttons are really the only call to actions on the page.  Clicking this would lead you to a page about Mezzanine that would have more videos, more images, more text, and more social proof.  Finally leading into another call to action, which I am guess would be a phone number.  Same for their other product.

9. Kintrol


I simply could not leave that unfortunate product name in there.  It is now called Kintrol.  Which as you can surmise is a combination of kinetic and control, which sums of the product perfectly.  It also sounds fun.  “Kintrol” doesn’t seem to have much usage on the net so I would trademark that asap.

10. Lead out


Some faux social proof here.  A very apt quote from a management god, that’s a double win.  Then some more copy to give intertia for people to make use of the contact info at the bottom of the page.

That’s about all.  I think if you look at both pages side by side it’s pretty easy to tell which is the dynamic and fun company on the cutting edge, and which is….well…Oblong.  Not to say Oblong isn’t dynamic and cutting edge, but that’s the whole point of the exercise.   On the web, you are what you present.  If you are not representing yourself in every aspect, from product design to web design, then you are missing a giant opportunity, especially for a company like Oblong.

 

 

03
Jun 2012
AUTHOR jess
CATEGORY

audit, design

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