Graphics on Link-Rich Home Pages

Jared Spool

July 7th, 2006

As we continue to answer the many questions that cropped up in our recent Virtual Seminar on Home Page Design, we turn our attention to the issue of graphics on home pages.

During the session, I hammered home (beat a dead horse?) about the idea of link-rich home pages, making the recommendation that designers strongly consider populating their home pages with dozens, if not hundreds, of useful links, making the site contents as visible from the home page as possible. I pointed to many of the examples in the recent UIEtips article, Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages, such as McMaster-Carr and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the seminar, several participants asked about graphics on these link-rich pages. “Do you see a role for graphics in this link-rich world?” was a common question.

To answer this question, we have to discuss what we mean by graphics. As we talked about in our report, Designing for the Scent of Information, you can categorize graphics into three types:

  • Navigation Graphics: which provide scent to the user in a graphical form.
  • Content Graphics: which communicate information directly to the user.
  • Decorative Graphics: which designers use to help with the mood, show professionalism, organize the page, help strengthen the brand engagements, and other nefarious purposes.

In a recent investigation we did of various police department sites, we found examples of all of these. For example, on the Atlanta Police Department home page, they have a navigation graphic constituents can use to find out information about the Atlanta Police Zone they are interested in:

The Atlanta PD Zone Map

Assuming a user knows which zone they want, this graphic is very helpful and gives off good scent. (Of course, if you don’t know the Atlanta area extremely well, these zones lose their scent very quickly. We wonder if this could’ve been improved by using a layer of landmarks, such as the airport, the downtown area, and the Buckhead region to help people figure out which zone they’re part of.)

Over at the New York City Police Department home page, we see some content graphics in the form of open police case images:

Content Graphics on the NYPD Site

Again, one can argue whether these are effective content graphics or not, but someone coming to the page wondering if it’s their best friend who robbed the bank would know instantly. At least, that’s the idea.

So, what is it that we find on the Beverly Hills Police Department home page? (Yup, that Beverly Hills–the 90210 folks!)

The Beverly Hills Cops

Or how about the Dallas Police Force? (To use a city from another TV show.)

The Dallas Police Department

From these images, we can see deduce the Dallas Police Force is very proud of their toys, whereas the Beverly Hills folks line up nicely in rows. But do these images help the user in any way? They don’t seem to provide scent, nor do they communicate content beyond “Yes, your tax dollars do pay for stuff.”

How about this image from the California Highway Patrol (ok, another TV reference)?

'Now Hiring' Ad on the California Highway Patrol Site

Looking beyond the 1970’s-style vaguely-creepy-looking-cop-glaring-at-the-pretty-dispatcher imagery, it’s not clear the graphic is necessary to encourage people to come work with the likes of Poncherello and Baker.

Police sites are notorious in their use of graphics on their home page. Take a gander at the entire CHiPs home page:

California Highway Patrol Home Page
Click to see the California Highway Patrol home page. (Click at your own risk.)

Whereas we’ve been advocating link-rich pages, they’ve opted for a graphics-rich page. They weren’t the worst we saw. Take a look at the Virginia State Police Department (not related to any TV show I’m aware of):

Virginia State Police Department Home Page
Click to see the Virginia State Police Department home page.

The Virginians (Ok, this is a long-shot, but what the hell… I do have to admit I miss James Drury!) are really into their graphics.

In general, we believe graphics have a place. When they effectively communicate scent or communicate content, they are valuable to the users experience. There’s no evidence to suggest designers couldn’t create link-rich pages with effective graphics.

But, we still have trouble justifying decorative graphics in many cases. The Now Hiring image from the CHiPs page is more decorative than navigation. A set of effective links, like on the Richmond PD site might be better:

Job links from the Richmond, VA Police Department site

Richmond’s approach gives more scent and options in half the pixels of the CHiPs version. If you’re trying to get as much scent on the home page as possible, looking for those types of solutions are what we recommend.

3 Responses to “Graphics on Link-Rich Home Pages”

  1. Zephyr Says:

    Somehow I find it disturbing that police department websites look like they were designed by one of the officers’ neighbours…

  2. smallgreenberd Says:

    i agree with zephyr, these police department sites are not convincing me that ‘link rich’ is anything to rave about. what about styling the content efficiently? thinking like a copy editor about your content and thinking through your users’ needs means you will determine what navigation and other homepage links are required. advocating ‘link rich’ sounds like an invitation to the bad old days where EVERYTHING had to be a link off the homepage. proceed with caution, imho….

  3. UX Designer’s Quick Reference | butlerhouse Says:

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