Adobe are regarded as the industry standard of design software, so it seems ironic (or embarrassing) that this website is so poorly designed. I came here simply wanting to post a question about Flash Player but found it the whole experience to be confusing, bewildering and frustrating.
I will list my ten major criticisms below:
1. ILLEGIBLE FONTS
Many of the site's styles (eg discussion titles) use horribly small fonts, to the point of being illegible and nauseating at normal viewing distance. I have to lean forwards towards the screen to read it. I have never had this issue with any other site I visit. The font used is not a screen font and is simply not suitable for being displayed at that size and looks quite ugly (eg lower case 'e' has no hole). In addition, some of the styles use almost illegible colors (eg gray on lighter gray). This kind of "minuscule" typography might be perfect for a small space (eg application control panels), but for a website displayed on a modern computer monitor (at least 1920 pixels wide) it is totally inappropriate. And my monitor is large, I dread to think how small the text would look on a small screen.
2. UNCOMFORTABLE LAYOUT
The layout spans the whole width of the screen, making it very uncomfortable to use the site. All the important elements are aligned either to the left or the right of the screen, with a vast gap in the middle, meaning that one has to constantly dart one's eyes (or neck) back and forth, which is made even worse by the small font size which requires a person to "move in" towards the screen.
3. LACK OF PAGE TITLES
To add to the sense of disorientation, many of the key pages don't have a title, so you simply do not know where you are or what you are looking at. For example if you go to the main list of all the communities (forums.adobe.com/places), there is no title; nothing to tell you what you are looking at. Likewise, if you do a search, there is no title (eg "Search results"). Having titles at the top of pages is fundamental to web design so people don't get confused about where they are.
4. THE "FORUMS" DON'T LOOK LIKE FORUMS
I was brought to the "Using Flash Player" page by an external link, and when I arrived I was just totally confused about where I was and what I was looking at. The page title "Using Flash Player" didn't tell me I was in a discussion community. The page is littered with so many different links and features it is hard to know where to look and what the purpose of the page is. The page does not have a sense of being a discussion forum. I expect a discussion forum to have the word "discussion" somewhere at the top, with a list of threads and information such as last post, replies, views, as well as a way to see how many threads there are in that forum and a way to navigate between pages and see older threads. Not to mention all the strange buttons which I will mention in my next point…
5. MYSTERIOUS BUTTONS
A good website uses terminology and controls that people recognize and understand. But all the buttons on this site are strange. At the top of each discussion forum we have "Overview", "Content", "People", "Sub-communities" and "Follow". I can honestly say I have no idea what any of those mean or do (with the exception of "Sub-communities"). Websites should use clear, unambiguous language so that people know what the controls do and are not clicking on the "unknown". If your site does have unconventional controls that people are not going to be familiar with, you should have tooltip popups which explain, to make it easy for newcomers. I have clicked on those strange buttons but on the whole I have not been able to work out what they do. The "People" button would seem to be a way of finding users/members but surely that is a rare function and it should be at the foot of the page not in a prominent location? Likewise when you do a search, you must choose whether to search for "Content", "People" or "Communities". Most people will have no idea what the first two of these options mean, I certainly don't. It's just a very weird site.
6. INCONSISTENT LAYOUT
Another confusing thing is that there seem to be as many page layouts as there are pages! Every different page I have been to has no common elements or common menus, everything changes. Even different community pages have different features and different layouts. This leaves you feeling totally disoriented. A website's basic controls and menus should not keep shifting around, it leaves the user with no sense of continuity; it cripples their understanding of how the site functions; and it prohibits them from distinguishing between a page's controls and its content, since both keep changing around.
I am less critical of bugs because I know that inevitably they happen, and likewise will inevitably be resolved. But in my brief time using the forums I came across plenty of bugs, two are on the main welcome page:
A) First of all, a pop-up box appears which says "Say Something" inviting me to click on the pencil icon. I then click on the pencil icon and another box appears with options. However, the "Say Something" box is still there and it obscures the box below it. You can't click on it, so you have to click off both boxes, then the "Say Something" box is active again, then you can click on the small "skip" button, and then finally you can click on the pencil icon again and see what was there all along. Not a serious bug, but clumsy.
B) Also on the welcome screen there is a link at the top which says "New to the community? Check out our guidelines". I didn't hesitate to click on this because by this point I felt totally lost and confused and wanted all the help I could get. I clicked on that button and it took me to a page called Community Guidelines. I clicked on the first link ("Find answers to questions") which took me to an error page ("Unauthorized. Access to this community or content is restricted. If you think this is a mistake, please contact your administrator or the person who directed you here.
8. TERMS AND CONDITIONS
Finally, the terms and conditions upon signing up are unreasonably long, to the point of being prohibitive. If someone is having a problem with their software, they don't want to have to spend hours reading through terms and conditions before they can even get to ask a question. It is completely out of order to force people to read all those terms and conditions, and especially forcing people to re-read the whole thing any time there is an update. It is simply laziness on the part of the admin. They could carefully go through the terms and conditions and identify the key elements which have been changed and provide the user with a neat summary, thus saving thousands of people many hours of reading. When I take out a mortgage on a house, I have terms and conditions to read, and I expect there to be a lot. But when I simply want to sign up to a discussion forum, I do not expect a similar level of terms and conditions. People can go to, say, Yahoo or Google or YouTube and discuss these issues freely without having to read any terms and conditions at all. By putting up all these barriers you are just turning people away.
9. IDENTITY CRISIS
Finally (and in conclusion) I would say that the site doesn't seem to know why it exists: whether it is aimed at helping the general public or amusing technology lovers?
I would have expected a site like this to be aimed at the general public, since it is promoted as a help resource by Adobe, and covers a very wide range of products, meaning that a very large and wide range of people should be expected to visit it.
However, the site gives the opposite impression. It has what I would call a steep "learning curve", with complex page layouts, full of unconventional controls and features, as well as the emphasis on community. This would all seem to suggest it is more of an exclusive site aimed more at techy people who want to "hang out" here and become regular users. I feel it is excluding laypeople and casual visitors who are simply seeking quick help.
To put it another way, the design of the site seems to be geared much more towards its regular users than those the site is supposedly trying to "help".
If you want a good example of a good, clean, elegant design that is easy to use, go to www.google.com you will notice that the controls are simple and easy: the eye is immediately drawn to the central part of the screen where the main controls are and there are only two buttons. Then if you want to see more advanced features you can go to the smaller controls which are tucked away in the top right corner and do not distract anyone.
Many of your points are totally legitimate.
This one, however, is not:
…To put it another way, the design of the site seems to be geared much more towards its regular users than those the site is supposedly trying to "help"…
The design and management of the forums for more than five years have driven literally dozens of the most valuable contributors and "regulars" away from the forums—permanently.
The only conclusion a prudent, reasonable person can draw from this state of affairs is that Adobe consciously and deliberately want to kill these forums by attrition—without a the PR hit they would otherwise take if they suddenly just shut them down.
Thank you Station.
I want to also clarify that I didn't write all that just for the sake of complaining. My criticism was supposed to be constructive and helpful. I am an interactive designer (formerly Web design) and these are my sincere opinions. It may be optimistic of me, but I would like to think that my comments would be appreciated by the kind of people who come here, because for many of us these are the kind of issues we are passionate about. Just me perhaps?
If you think anything can move Adobe to improve these forums, you are not merely optimistic, you are delusional.
It has been tried ad nauseam.
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Thank you for your feedback. It's important to say that this site was not designed by Adobe - it's a closed-source platform operated by Jive Software, so most of your (very valid) criticisms can't be fixed in the short term.
Adobe do listen to customer feedback, but all I can tell you is that the shortfalls of the current site are understood.
They may "listen to feedback", but they very seldom—if ever—do anything about it.
They may "listen to feedback", but they very seldom—if ever—do anything about it.
I know you can't see much happening from the public side of the fence, but that's not true.
Dave Merchant wrote:
…I know you can't see much happening from the public side of the fence, but that's not true.
The only side that counts, as far as I'm concerned… after slightly more than eight years of watching the fence.
The layout of the forum pages can be changed. I believe you could change the font size and font used. See my thread for tips on how to do the changes.