My editor pointed out that this article might just be treason.
Low-level treason, but treason nonetheless.
Well, now you know the lengths to which I will go to champion good UX.
Here are some things to note about the new Royal Family website, a place of great content and slightly confusing user journeys.
Mobile-first but with too many links out?
The site looks better on mobile than it does on desktop, where it has the characteristic appearance of a stream of content that has been re-arranged for a larger page and lacks focus.
On the lighter side, I do love the call-to-action ‘You may also like.. The Duke of Edinburgh’.
However, there’s a problem in concept with this mobile-first website.
It’s essentially a blog with some nice featured articles and embedded video, then lots of links out to other Royal properties (e.g. The Royal Collection website) and social networks (Instagram and Twitter).
What this means is there’s an initially enjoyable experience on mobile, scrolling through an optimised home or category page.
But then when the user clicks on some features they get carried away to another website, or to a web browser version of a social network (rather than the app).
So, when I try to Like an embedded Tweet, I get the following experience.
Embedded Instagram posts don’t display any text on them on Royal.UK
So again I have to click through to see what it’s all about, to Instagram in a browser.
Blocks such as the one below (‘Plan Your Visit’, on the ‘Homes and residences’ stream) carry me to an external website with no warning.
There are some blocks which do warn of an external site, but not all of them do.
Therefore, for all the joy of discovering ‘native’ articles with nice text and images, and for all the joy of scrolling, the experience as a whole can be frustrating.
Millennials don’t like mobile web UX, so used are they to the app world.
It reminds me of using a social curation tool such as Storystream. It’s intended to show highlights at face value, with links off to in-depth articles.
So, despite its mobile-optimised appearance, this site actually works far better on desktop, where users have time and space to explore the content.
Some of the content is great, but you need to load two pages to find it
Making an attempt to avoid that treason charge, I went to find some great content.
So, I clicked the following CTA on the homepage:
And it doesn’t link to an article, merely a search facility that has been turned on to show me all the Queen-specific content (see below).
Looking at the CTA again, I realise the search icon should have made this obvious.
Anyway, the content on this filtered page is great, there’s video that plays when you scroll over and some nicely informative articles.
But, I can’t help but think that the website confuses the user slightly with that first click.
Site search is not intuitive (and doesn’t cope with typos)
Site search sometimes confuses.
Before realising there’s actually an ‘invisible’ search field which you need to click into, the user naturally but mistakenly clicks the search icon, which loads search results for a blank query.
Click the ‘invisible’ field, not the icon.
Then the user types a phrase and either hits return on the desktop keyboard or ‘search’ on the mobile keyboard.
But instead of searching, this merely adds a comma after the search term, much as if you were adding tags to a blog post (see below).
So, the user then has to hit return or ‘search’ once more to get the action underway.
Far from ideal as this is a behaviour pattern that isn’t often used on site search fields.
‘Search’ keyboard button doesn’t search first time.
Then, when you finally search, the function does deal very neatly with synonyms (e.g. ‘Charles’ takes me to results for ‘The Prince of Wales’) but any typo is likely to stifle your results. And the alternative, suggested content is generic.
See below, where I’ve searched for ‘Bictoria’ (note that B is next to V on a mobile keyboard).
Lastly, when you select a page, its title populates the search field.
This is confusing (or at least atypical) if you want to then use this field for your onward journey.
Navigation is limited, can lead to the user getting ‘lost’
The site is designed to be scrolled. There are basic category filters in the menu (which again narrow down posts based on search ‘tags’).
But the user simply can’t see the extent of the content, or what subsections might hold.
This is fine if content is intended to be transitory, flying by and not evergreen, but I’m not sure it’s intended to be that type of experience.
To get round this, the site uses blocks that link to different parts of the same article, but this can send the user to content they have already viewed.
These two blocks link to the same long article, albeit one block links to further down said page.
The website menu is limited.
And this button is slightly strange
‘Related content’ isn’t exactly a CTA that’s begging to be clicked.
Was this content crying out to be on Medium or WordPress?
The newly ‘platformised’ Medium or the classic WordPress are great options. Lots of the UX has already been done to a high standard and, crucially, it’s becoming standard.
Some of the problems I had with the site came from the fact that I had not previously experienced the UX points I detailed above.
Standing out is great, but not at the expense of a decent user experience.
Cookies are truly treasonous
Lastly, a tiny detail. Despite EU law, I think websites are overzealous when implementing a ‘cookie warning’.
Here, the message obscures the Queen’s face. That definitely is treason.
I had to actively get to know this website, get used to using it, understand its quirks.
Perhaps I’ve overplayed the detrimental effect of this novelty in an age of limited attention span.
The content is good and perhaps it will reward royalists all the more for its new look, and turn the ambivalent away.
Reading Room and The Royal Family have certainly championed the novel use of search as navigation, I’m just not sure the world is ready to do that for a site with limited content.