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Author Topic: Design the forum in favor of making it easier to use.  (Read 2125 times)
Icey!
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« on: June 10, 2023 @382.57 »

One main criticism I have with this forum is how "user unfriendly" it is. It took me weeks to get my head around the UI when I first joined. I also feel that the reason why many users don't join or simply stop using it is because of this very reason. While I totally get that this forum uses really old software it doesn't mean that it's safe from nitpicks.

While it has gotten better over time, I still have some issues with it.

Let me list a few problems I was able to find and I will try to provide solutions when possible as I know Melonking will see this:

1. Replying

When you go to a topic and want to reply you would click on the "Reply" button you will then notice that you are redirected to a "text editor" page and all the replies along with the original post are shoved at the bottom. The problem with this approach is that many first time users might not notice that the posts are at the bottom and might get stuck with trying to respond. Another problem is that having to scroll up and down to make sure you are getting all the context can be a little tedious.

The Solution to this actually already exists as "Quick replies". Which exists at the bottom of the topic page but considering the placement of the button, most people won't notice that. If you made replying use that as the default instead and moved the editor to a portion of the screen (pufferably the bottom of the screen) you would single-handedly fix the problem (For previewing topics I would recommend putting a preview right next to the editor that would update every second.).


Also considering that the naming of replies are a bit unnecessary I think it would be better to remove them from replies altogether.

2. Topic navigation

Something I find more troubling than the Replying is trying to actually NAVIGATE a Topic, and one key word is BUTTONS!

Buttons are all over the place to the point that you might not notice they are actually there.

Also it might just be me but these buttons seem to blend in weirdly and have pretty poor naming. I mean come on! "Reply to Topic"? "Notify"? and I doubt anyone would want to email someone a melonland topic with that button! Have you forgotten your target audience Melonking? We know what a url is!


Also why is "Lock Topic", "Add Poll", and "Move Topic" at the bottom of the page?


(As a side note, I think it would be better to have "Add Poll" in the Text editor ether when creating or editing the topic.)

Another nitpick I have is that this "folder list" is taking up a bit of unnessesary space:

(The "World Wide Web" folder is also unnecessary)

Considering that it's not really that important and just for seeing where you are at on the forum I would do something like this:


For my solution, I would say to do something like this (this is just a rough sketch for a guide on button placement):


I renamed "Notify" to "Subscribe +" and "Reply to topic" to just "Reply +" and made the button bigger and put it off to the side to make it easier to notice.

As a bit of a improvement I also separated replies from the parent post in this sketch which allows you to see the original post while still being able to go deep into the replies. I added some controls to help sort them.

3. The Top Navigation

When it comes the navigation it's actually not that bad, but I do still want to improve it just a little bit.

Firstly I am just not a fan of this icon set:


Especially the "Profile" one that feels really uncanny to me. I also feel that the "Entrance" and "Wiki" Buttons are a little unnecessary as they only serve to advertise melon's side projects and not assist the user in navigating the forum. The "Search" would be better off as part of the natigation, and considering we are removing alot of the icons why not put them all of them into where the other navigation is?

The navigation here feels a bit empty:


Also these buttons are unnecessary as well and take up a lot of space:



As a fix let's combine all these into something more simple and easier to navigate:


(The empty spot where the username is, is where the profile icon will appear.)

That's pretty much it! Although there exist a few other problems like the account settings being a bit unorganized and the search function being an absolute joke (it has an annoying cooldown) but these are just the main ones.

Do you have any other suggestions? Maybe I got something wrong? Please don't be afraid to reply your thoughts!
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2023 @479.24 »

I can see where you're coming from and I do think this forum could be improved in some places, but I have to disagree with a lot of your points.

How much experience do you have with forums? I'm a bit of a layman and I definitely grew up with social media, but I've spent a pretty moderate amount of time browsing forums. I had almost no issue adjusting to the layout when I first joined, and I find that MelonLand has a pretty standard layout compared to other forums. The only massively unusual thing I noticed would probably be the oversized shoutbox.

I honestly think the most user-unfriendly part of this forum is the actual aesthetics. Not that I think they're bad or need to be changed, but the bright colours and animated background might be a bit jarring at first. I can see them being a big contributing factor if someone is already having a hard time. Especially with the variety in fonts and colours available to users: a few of the fonts border on unreadable, which sucks because I find myself skipping replies pretty often just because the font is too difficult for me to read.

I know there's a way to disable custom fonts (without the newspaper theme), but I find them a massive part of the site's character and I don't want to disable all of them. Especially if I have to use a third-party browser extension to do so. I feel like there should be an actual setting for that.

Quote from: Icelogist
When you go to a topic and want to reply you would click on the "Reply" button you will then notice that you are redirected to a "text editor" page and all the replies along with the original post are shoved at the bottom. The problem with this approach is that many first time users might not notice that the posts are at the bottom and might get stuck with trying to respond. Another problem is that having to scroll up and down to make sure you are getting all the context can be a little tedious.

Personally, while quick replies have their place, I find them kind of frustrating for composing longer replies. It takes up less space on my screen, and all the extra details on the page become distracting when I'm trying to focus. Especially if the last person to reply has a very animated signature. There's a lot of information that isn't really relevant that makes scrolling up and down through the thread very tedious. Replying normally simplifies the thread and only shows the bare minimum, making it so much easier.

I do agree that replying normally has issues, but I don't think they can be fixed by making quick replying the default.
Like when there's multiple pages of replies, you're not shown all of them at once or given the option to change pages, which means you have to look at the thread in another tab. And when you're viewing a thread with a lot of short replies, there's almost nothing to distinguish different replies from each other (or the information about the reply itself) which makes it incredibly difficult to read.

I also think reducing emojis to an expanding menu, like with quick replies, would be a good improvement. There's no separation between them and the actual text and they just look a bit ugly hanging out there like that.

screenshot

(why is one of those replies white instead of blue?)
[close]

Quote from: Icelogist
Also it might just be me but these buttons seem to blend in weirdly and have pretty poor naming. I mean come on! "Reply to Topic"? "Notify"? and I doubt anyone would want to email someone a MelonLand topic with that button! Have you forgotten your target audience Melonking? We know what a url is!

I do agree that buttons could probably be simplified. Are the email and print button important enough to be beside the reply button? I don't think it would be hurt to reduce them a little bit. Maybe changing the outline of the buttons from purple to another colour would make them easier to see?

Quote from: Icelogist
Also why is "Lock Topic", "Add Poll", and "Move Topic" at the bottom of the page?

Are you viewing your own topic? You're allowed to lock and move them. That option isn't present for other people's threads.



Quote from: Icelogist
Another nitpick I have is that this "folder list" is taking up a bit of unnecessary space:
. . .
(The "World Wide Web" folder is also unnecessary)

I totally agree. I understand it's a super long-running forum design, but I think that folder pile could be reduced. "MelonLand Forum" is a bit redundant because I know what website I'm on (and there's the huge sparkly title to remind me anyways), and clicking on the category name doesn't bring you anywhere. I believe that's the entire point of a folder structure like that one, so I think it's a bit useless.

Quote from: Icelogist
For my solution, I would say to do something like this (this is just a rough sketch for a guide on button placement):
. . .

 I think the diagonal folder structure is pretty essential. There's a lot of horizontal lines going on in that area, and changing it to the simplified version makes it blend in a lot more. It's important for navigation because aside from the drop-down list in the bottom right (who uses that?), there's no other way to return to the board you were looking at. I wouldn't want a less-observant newbie to not notice and and frustratedly click the back button in their browser.

Honestly, I think the notify/reply/whatever buttons are fine where they are. In that proposal, I think you should note that the lock/move topic options aren't always there, so having them appear to the left and push the other options to the side unexpectedly would be pretty awkward.

I also think the separation between the original post and the replies is over-designing things a bit. The reply button/page numbers are available at the top if necessary, and I don't think putting the OP in a vacuum is very appropriate for a forum. If anything, it pushes the replies out of immediate sight, which is counterproductive when the whole point of a forum is to talk.

Quote from: Icelogist
Firstly I am just not a fan of this icon set:
. . .
Especially the "Profile" one that feels really uncanny to me. I also feel that the "Entrance" and "Wiki" Buttons are a little unnecessary as they only serve to advertise melon's side projects and not assist the user in navigating the forum. The "Search" would be better off as part of the navigation, and considering we are removing a lot of the icons why not put them all of them into where the other navigation is?

I don't think hiding these buttons in a tiny drop down menu in the corner is the best decision. They're huge, colourful, and probably the first thing you notice about the forums, which means new users will probably use them to navigate first. I know the home button is made redundant by being able to click on the MelonLand title (and the four other ways of navigating the site), but those options aren't immediately apparent to new people.

The entrance button, while perhaps a bit too far in front of the others, is to let people who came here via melonland.net go back to where they came from. I think the wiki is incredibly relevant to these forums (it's literally where the guidelines are), so I think labelling its inclusion as "only a way for Melon to advertise his side project(s)" is pretty silly.

I agree that the icon for the profile button is a little strange and I wouldn't mind a different one. I'm also not opposed to turning the search button into a search bar.

Quote from: Icelogist
Also these buttons are unnecessary as well and take up a lot of space:
. . .

One of them is the link to the webring directly connected to this site, so I think it's actually very important to include here. The others aren't necessary, but does everything have to be? I think the radio is lovely background music and has a very fascinating website.

How big is your monitor? On a 1080p one, those buttons are quite small and are in space that would've been otherwise wasted. It actually took me a while to notice they were buttons; I just thought they were cute decorative gifs.

I do think the back to top button is pretty weird. Instead of scrolling you back to the top, it sends you to the home page... in a new tab?? If that's unintentional it should be fixed, and if not it should be changed to say 'home' or whatever, so it's a little less confusing.





I think it's important to consider the actual demographic of this website in the first place. How many people coming here are brand new to forums? Though they're not nearly as popular as they used to be, they're still very prevalent in gaming communities. Reddit is a kind of forum.

Especially when the target audience of this forum is people who are super into webmastery/the indie web; people who have probably spent a lot of time navigating far older and more difficult layouts than this one. Even if they're never seen a forum in their life they'd probably be quick to learn it.

I don't think we should alienate new people for the grave sin of not knowing something, but should we really disassemble the UI for a group of people that by their nature, may not stick around long anyways? I think making a poll or survey of some kind might be good to do before making sweeping changes like this.

Sorry if this reply was a bit long LOL i guess i got kind of carried away :tongue:
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2023 @491.89 »

As someone who had spent plenty time on forums before ever joining social media, I also had zero trouble ever navigating this one. I'm pretty sure the other forums I've joined these days also all have the normal reply box as default and opening on top of previous posts. The exception is the Tapas forum, and that one is build very differently overall.

I'm also pretty sure I remember Melon mentioning that the bright color scheme served a direct purpose, as sort of a test (aka if a person finds such a design a dealbreaker for them for aesthetic reasons - then this forum is likely not for them in spirit)? If I remember that correctly, then I'd guess the classic old school UI is also an artistic choice (perhaps even a statement).

I'll let people more well-articulated or opinionated in the UI sphere answer more in depth as far as your other points go, and I can be wrong too, but the concept of streamlining designs in favor of quickness and smoothness etc etc hits way too close to home considering the damage corporate design has done to the web these last years.

(Also I adore the navigation buttons as they are now. They're whimsical and bright, like most of this place, and that's what attracted me to join in the first place.)
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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2023 @498.14 »

The cluttered UI is not a bug, it's a feature  :ozwomp:

I'm joining in with the rest of the replies: as a former forumgoer, I had no problems whatsoever with getting accustomed to the navigation on the site. I don't wanna be one of those people who holds on to dated, unusable standards because 'that's how it's supposed to be' but this style is definitely one of the cornerstones of the whole forum. I think streamlining too much could impact the identity of the MelonLand forum in a negative way.

I do also think it's still good to consider what works and what doesn't though, so it's not like I disagree on the topic as a whole.  :4u:
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« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2023 @512.18 »

I feel it worth adding that as someone who isn't used to forums, I found the navigation of this site rather confusing and overwhelming to begin with too which seems to be in contrast to the replies in this thread. Most likely due to the fact that users have used forums before, unlike me. But I thought it might be helpful to add that yeah, some people (me included) do find navigating this site somewhat difficult to begin with, but at least for me personally, I'm unsure of how much of that difficulty is down to the design itself versus being a noob in terms of forum usage lol.

After using the forum for some time it's become a lot easier to use though, but as stated in the original post, I was personally put off attempting to partake in the forum for a month or so before finally caving in and joining just due to how overwhelmed the site had me feeling. That's not to say that I feel like the site has to change in any respect to accommodate anything, I think the site works well— especially with the newspaper theme. Actually, I remember when I invited some friends to join this forum and I had two distinct reactions!

  • Friend 1: Wow! This site looks so cool, of course I'll immediately join!
  • Friend 2: Wow, this site is a lot. Is there any way to change the appearance of it before I join?

I'm not entirely sure how to finish this post off, other than to say that I empathise with those who find the site overwhelming and difficult to navigate whilst also reiterating that I'm not personally seeking change. If a guest is reading this and would otherwise join if not for the current look of the site, then I recommend joining anyway (this forum is such a cool place!!!) and changing the "Look and Layout" setting to "Newspaper".
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« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2023 @553.39 »

I can agree with the fonts being overly hard to read at times. They should stay on by default, but an option to toggle them would be nice. Or maybe by adding a theme toggle at the bottom of the site, that was the norm with VBulletin. The rest I either disagree with or have no strong feelings against.

The one thing I would change is the spin effects, they move too fast, and could possibly trigger seizures.

One main criticism I have with this forum is how "user unfriendly" it is. It took me weeks to get my head around the UI when I first joined. I also feel that the reason why many users don't join or simply stop using it is because of this very reason. While I totally get that this forum uses really old software it doesn't mean that it's safe from nitpicks.

This is a normal thing when joining any site that's unlike what you've used before.

As someone who used forums back in the day, the UI wasn't confusing to navigate at all. This layout is standard when it comes to forums. I will say I was confused when I started using forums, but I was confused with Tumblr, Twitter, and various other sites at first, too.

Like when there's multiple pages of replies, you're not shown all of them at once or given the option to change pages, which means you have to look at the thread in another tab. And when you're viewing a thread with a lot of short replies, there's almost nothing to distinguish different replies from each other (or the information about the reply itself) which makes it incredibly difficult to read.

The print button shows threads in their entirety.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2023 @627.80 by arcus » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2023 @560.38 »

Ice, I think your points are interesting to think about and I'm glad you put a lot of thought into this. However, I will also say, pretty bold of you to pick such a condescending tone explaining how forums should be designed to people who have used forums longer than you. Yes - just because it's old doesn't mean it's right or can't be improved upon and some things have to go with the times, however some of this is.. baffling, to say the least. I agree with the criticisms others voiced above, and I think it is especially disappointing that you would wanna do away with the button to the 3d Ozwomp world when this forum is also about 3d browser worlds and it was my impression that Melon is passionate about this topic and would love more people to make them.
I also would like to say that it is just natural that you are seeking some of the design choices you got used to growing up and still see on other sites, and are missing them here; but for many I think, this is also the place to get away from the corporate, profit-oriented design choices of so many other sites.
Realistically, too, I think we need to remember this is mostly a one-person-job; as mentioned above already, some things may be there to not attract a large amount of people so this space can still feasibly be run and moderated. Some sites and communities don't scale well or get shut down when they are too big to handle :eyes: .

Also, what is it about limitless growth that is attractive in this scenario? Since I joined, over a 100 other people joined this forum. Does the forum have a lack of content or contributors? Is it dying out? I don't have this feeling, but some may disagree. I think our mindset can be pretty drilled to always favor growth - other sites taught us that we always want more likes, more followers, more engagement, that our fellow friends or creators we look up to always need to grow, that the sites themselves and businesses under capitalism always need to make changes to grow in an unsustainable way. It can be useful to pause and consider if this is a positive thing and what results we even want, and if attempting to attract more users would even aid that goal. So what is your goal, Ice? Is there anything specific you think is lacking that is made better by more users who stick around, or is it a vague "all things are better with more people in it"?
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« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2023 @634.65 »

Like others, I had previous experience with forums when I was younger and found this one pretty intuitive to navigate. It's a pretty standard forum layout, but I also think it would lose a lot of its charm and individuality if it was redesigned extensively. It strikes a good balance I think

Also I don't see why the Surf Club button is "unnecessary and should be removed" considering the Surf Club itself is connected to the forum.
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« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2023 @672.29 »

After viewing the replies I've realized that I forgot to consider the many older folks who actually USES forums.

I still stand with my main points as I think there are ways that the UI can be approved, my attempts at providing solutions may not work for some people and I understand that.

While I am at it I will ask a few questions:

1. No, I never used to be active on a forum before Melonland. I was mainly a social media person before joining. But I would like to note that some forums actually use similar layouts to my solutions.

2. I will admit that I was a little harsh about "useless buttons". I actually don't mind the "3D Ozwomp spinny moon" and "the radio no one uses". Also I apologize for saying the "surf club" was useless as it's actually apart of them forum.  :drat:
« Last Edit: June 10, 2023 @684.76 by Icelogist » Logged



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« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2023 @682.44 »

Yeah, I think this is just an issue of you not being used to forums. They are like this, the replies have always been this way, the navigation has always been like this, and it's easy to use once you get comfortable with it. There's an ongoing trend with social media of every one of them resembling one another (post buttons are always the same, there's always a story-like function, the private messages are always the same) and to try to extrapolate that to forums is not only out of place but also missing the point of forums. It's like going on facebook and saying it should have character limit on posts, get rid of groups and marketplace and games, and change the F on its logo for a blue bird.
You make some good points, specially about accesibility, but anyone who cares enough to make themselves comfortable with forums will know that they usually have a few themes that are designed to be easier to use. I myself have trouble with light text over dark backgrounds, and I had to use this forum that way for all of three minutes until I found in the wiki (which you want to un-link from the forum for some reason??) how to change themes, and have used newspaper ever since.
"News: melonland forum now has proper ui" was unnecesary and rude also. Maybe tone it down a bit next time and it'll start a more productive conversation.
After seeing your latest reply and going on your profile: I mean this in the kindest way possible but I don't think your age group is the target userbase of forums. I was less than 10 years old when I joined my first one so I should know lol. It doesn't mean you shouldn't be using it, just that most decisions won't have you (and what you're used to) in mind. It's a nice challenge to overcome that.
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« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2023 @688.36 »

"News: melonland forum now has proper ui" was unnecesary and rude also. Maybe tone it down a bit next time and it'll start a more productive conversation.

In my defense, it was very late when I was making this topic (around 10pm - 1 am) it took me 4 whole hours to make this. But yes it was rude, I'm sorry.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2023 @129.22 by Icelogist » Logged



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« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2023 @689.00 »

I think this is a fantastic case study Ice! If you've ever considered doing work experience or interning at a local web design agency you should show them this thread because I would hire you after seeing this  :grin: (If you are reading this web design agency, hire ice!)

Some of the points I totally agree with (why is the move topic button at the bottom??); some are obviously things I've done, while a lot of them are just part of the underlying design of older forums.

One thing I find really interesting about your points is to compare them to the latest version of this forum software (we definitely do not use the latest version) - you can explore a live version here. It seems like many of your suggestions have already happened in the newer software - I also recognise some of your suggestions from other more modern forum software like Discourse!

I will also say, pretty bold of you to pick such a condescending tone explaining how forums should be designed to people who have used forums longer than you.
This is the job of youth and without cheek and boldness the world would never move forward  :tongue:



Overall, thank you for making this post, and thank you to those who have added specific points! (feel free to keep adding them)!

The overall layout changes are probably beyond the amount of time I'm willing to put into the forum; but there are a bunch of specific take aways here that I think should be done in the coming months:
  • Improve the list of past replies when making a new post!
  • Remove clutter from the folder site map (the one you like is actually one I made, the folder stack is default)
  • Make the send and print buttons smaller and make the reply button clearer
  • Move the topic management buttons to the top
  • Add a sticky "jump to quick reply" button on the side
  • Add a "quick search" field somewhere at the top
  • Notify to Subscribe seems like a good idea
  • Better explain the purpose of the pop-out sticky button above the top button
  • Make the profile button movie its eyes so its even more uncanny
  • Rethink the entrance button
  • Add a button that quick switches to newspaper theme on the fly, even for guests
  • See if ts possible to put an add poll button on the topic editor
  • Test a continuous scroll option for thread pages

How does that sound as a start?
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« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2023 @16.24 »

Edit2: I also just realized that there are no "unread topics" or "recent posts" buttons. Please add them to the newspaper theme.

It's right next to your avatar on the top left. Unread posts and new replies to posts you replied to
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« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2023 @133.21 »

I don't exactly feel proud of this topic anymore as the only person that seems to agree with me is Melonking, and I don't even know if he is just trying to being nice. Everyone else puffers the current layout.

I don't feel as if I am being accepted into this community half the time. I get that the tone was off and no one likes change but I did it because I cared about this forum, and it seems that I care too much.

I was going to lock this topic but melon unlocked it because he didn't like my previous reason, which admittedly was also "off".
« Last Edit: June 11, 2023 @151.85 by Icelogist » Logged



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« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2023 @201.66 »

I don't exactly feel proud of this topic anymore as the only person that seems to agree with me is Melonking, and I don't even know if he is just trying to being nice. Everyone else puffers the current layout.

If it wasn't for the tone, I don't think anyone would mind. You did put a lot of effort in your post, and your design is rather well thought out and nice. But as replacement, I'm not a fan. While I prefer the default layout, this could work well for a new theme. Variety is nice.

I don't feel as if I am being accepted into this community half the time. I get that the tone was off and no one likes change but I did it because I cared about this forum, and it seems that I care too much.

Forums tend to attract older members. This doesn't mean you're too young, but the culture, expectations, and lived experiences are different. This is a good thing, it means you can learn things you wouldn't otherwise. While I can't talk for anyone else, your posts don't bother me since you want to understand things, and when you do come off as aggressive, you take a step back and reevaluate what you said.

I was going to lock this topic but melon unlocked it because he didn't like my previous reason, which admittedly was also "off".

This is general forum etiquette. Forum threads are supposed to belong to the community, and aren't specifically owned by one person, save for a few exceptions. Not saying you can't feel bad about this, it does suck when you make a personal thread and it doesn't pan out.
Logged

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