I'm beta testing the new site now that it's open, so I thought I should collect my thoughts somewhere before I submit official feedback on certain things. I find that it helps, when dealing with matters of design especially, to write things down first, then sort through it again afterwards to see if my opinions are still the same.
THE VIDEO PLAYER WORKS ON CHROME AGAIN! The old version of the player would often outright refuse to work on Google Chrome (or Firefox) for me. The new version is much faster and sleeker--no more opening Safari/Edge exclusively for RT videos for me. I also really appreciate the return of the ability to change video resolution. Too many times have I squinted through a 240p video, trying to see some detail, unable to push it up to HD despite having adequate internet speed to do so--no more.
The new search is much better as well. I gave it a test run and even found a video I hadn't seen before by searching for "Tower of Pimps." Having the results pop up so quickly is also very nice. In general, it feels much cleaner than the old search function.
The Home Page:
Currently, I'm not a fan of the home page on the new site. I've never particularly liked the whole full-page photo/video design for any purpose. I think it needlessly uses up screen real estate that could have so much other useful information on it. The thing about a video player is that once you click on it to play it, you can go full screen.
Scrolling down, there's this Netflix-esq series of thumbnails for a variety of videos from different series and channels (including a "recent" section, which I do like--more on that in a bit) as well as a bunch of merchandise haphazardly thrown in there. It's a design that may be modelled after Netflix but feels more like the old Xbox 360 Dashboard.
The main issue I have with this part of the home page is that it feels cluttered and disorganized. Having to scroll both horizontally and vertically makes it easy to feel lost in the maze of content. I think the solution here is to break down the design into it's simple components and really streamline those parts that work:
Instead of having rows upon rows of thumbnails to sift through, a dropdown menu that allows the user to choose which category they want to look through would be great--much like the video page on the current version of the site or even the "series" page on the beta site. By doing this, we could have just one section of videos that can be filtered.
For example: if I haven't seen the latest Hitman Let's Watch yet, and I also want to watch the new Backwardz Compatible, I would hit that dropdown menu and select "Achievement Hunter," add Hitman to my watchlist, select "FIRST" from the dropdown, and open up Backwardz Compatible to watch. If I just wanted to see what was new, I could just select "All" and start scrolling or visit the Series page and look there.
Removing the forrest of thumbnails would also help the "Gear" row from seem less out of place. Right now it just feels like a badly placed banner ad.
I think the key idea that really sums up my thoughts on the home page is that the home page should not try to be another video page. The home page is where you land when you first arrive at the site. It should have updates from the company as a prevalent aspect (Journals from the staff are a big one, maybe a Twitter feed if you're feeling particularly widget-y).
Rooster Teeth is a high-tier video producer but it's not a video service; it's a community. Without a viewable community aspect, this beta design for the home page puts the user at arms length by removing any semblance of interaction.
These two pages (three, if you count the home page) feel rather redundant. "Channels" gives you a dropdown within the navigation pane which lets you choose a specific RT brand to explore. When you choose one, you land on a page that is identical to the homepage in nearly every way except for the featured video and the fact that the "Gear" and "Recent" sections are filtered for that brand. Then, beneath that, you can still access the rest of the channels' videos, making those extra clicks that it took to get there almost completely pointless.
Both the home page and the Channels page give the user plenty of opportunities to access the various "Series" menus by placing those menus all over the place. There are selections of different series by all the RT brands on every page. I believe the goal for this design choice was to unify the site and allow users to access any part of the site they want from any other part of the site without having to use a navigation menu (which can now be hidden). I don't believe this was the right way to accomplish that.
The design renders itself useless. By tying all the pages together, the need for pages at all is removed. By having different pages within that system, the design becomes obsolete. It sort of defeats itself.
The Series page is the key video page. It has nearly everything the user needs to access the videos they want to watch. The ability to sort videos by genre, brand, release date, exclusivity, etc. is fantastic. The only thing missing is the ability to "see all videos" without having to go in and out of different series. I believe the goal of good web design should be to minimize page-hopping. By adding the ability to get straight to the videos from this page, we could minimize a lot of potential page-hopping. All in all, this page puts the power to access content in the users' hands. This page also makes the home page and the Channels page almost completely pointless in their current states.
I like this page a lot. It's simple but effective. It shows what the next live broadcast will be, as well as the following few. The only thing I'd add here is a full week schedule, letting people know what day of the week regularly aired shows come on.
Once again, simple yet effective. The ability to reorder items in the list is very useful and it's extremely easy. Just click and drag.
I don't think I'm personally quite ready for mobile-style site menus on my desktop interface. It feels needlessly clunky to open and close a navigation tab. I think the power of a good horizontal, sticky navigation bar has become underestimated by a lot of people lately. This is not a big deal, though. There are far more important aspects to web design than the appearance and position of the navigation bar (see above for examples).
I like the new system for replies. It really cleans up the appearance of the comments section and makes threads nice and easy to read.
The integration of the store into nearly every page of the site is a challenging topic that goes beyond web design. I've read some people's opinions that it feels like merchandise is being forced on them at every turn, and I tend to agree with them. The presence of the Gear section on almost every page feels ham-fisted and intrusive; however, it's important to remember that Rooster Teeth is a company that needs to make money. The fact that they have made it this far, doing their best to keep viewers from being bombarded with advertising, is incredible and very much appreciated. I trust the Rooster Teeth team to continue to do their best to keep our experience as pure as possible, so if they think having a section of the site dedicated to showing off merch we may want to buy is the best way to do that, I'll live with the extra scroll or two it'll take to get past it.
In general, things are definitely headed in the right direction. With some more time, my opinion may change, but at this current stage I believe there are still some fundamental changes that need to be made to ensure the site is as good as it can be. Those changes are mostly to do with the User Interface/Experience. Once the "community" aspect of the site is launched, my concerns on the seeming lack of user-focus in the beta site may be slaked. I do truly hope the development team is able to maintain (or even improve upon) the integration between the community and video aspects of the site we've had in the past (embedding would be awesome!) so fingers crossed!
I'm super excited about the prospect of what the site could become and I love having the chance to be a part of the community that's helping to shape it.