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Reviewer Mike Swope takes a look at this Flash Site to promote Photographer Milare Turgeon

iCi et la

The site iCi et la is a site rendered 100% in Flash to promote Milare Turgeon, an French [I believe] photographer. Why do I believe the photographer is French? Because the link on the entry page that reads "bienvenue" links to f.html (f for French), and "welcome" to e.html (e for English).
      My guess that the photographer is French illuminates the problem with the site, in that the site virtually requires previous knowledge of the photographer and generally overlooks the needs of visitors.

Flash Sites

Flash sites are popular among photographers, who wish to present an advanced interactive experience with visitors, to complement and showcase their skills and photographs. That this site is built entirely in Flash is not surprising.
      It is technically efficient and interesting, and looks great! The Flash developer has done a solid job. Movement is fluid and efficient. Colors are well-chosen. The entry page offers two clear choices: French or English. The copy is legible. I believe the results of the site are exactly as the Flash developer intended. But the designer has not done his or hers as well as the Flash developer (these persons may be one and same).
      The user-interface and presentation assumes foreknowledge of the photographer, her work (I believe the photographer is a woman), and the web site. Truth is, most visitors to brochure web sites such as this are new visitors.
      Content on sites such as this does not change often. So the content of such sites MUST cater to first-time visitors who are not nearly as likely to explore as returning visitors. Most new visitors haven't come to explore these sites in their entirety. They've come to browse haphazardly and randomly, or they've come to perform a single task, even if that task is as simple and unassuming as to call the photographer.

Visitor-oversight

Visitor-oversight is evident once the visitor has entered the site. As a visitor, I am immediately confused. The purpose of the site is hidden behind what appears at first to be two "doors" (I think of U.S. television game shows such as "Let's Make A Deal"): Artist and Card Collections. Mousing over these two "doors" respectively reveals some copy about the photographer and 20 partial thumbnail images of cards.
      All well, except that I expect this to be a photographer's site, not an artist's site, and the copy about the photographer all fits within the frame except for 2 lines so that the visitor must scroll down that 2 lines to read the last of the copy. The designer/Flash developer should first change the heading from Artist to Photographer, and then consider the copy. There isn't much reason to scroll here, not enough reward, no payoff.
      In choosing the "door" about the Artist, I expect to discover the photographer's name, probably his/her address, and some other interesting biographical information, and possibly some singular perspective about the photographer's vision.
      The payoff for mousing over this "door" is none of these things. Instead, there are only two and a quarter paragraphs that could well be about any photographer anywhere in the world. There is nothing to differentiate this photographer behind this "door."
      This is a missed opportunity to sell the photographer (not artist) by selling his/her unique methods, choices and preferences. "Door" #2 is more interesting, but more confusing than the first. As a new visitor, I do not understand what a Card Collection is exactly. Are the Cards postcards? Playing cards? Trading cards? And I wonder why they are important? And I wonder why the small universal HELP icon (a question mark inside a circle) appears in the lower right corner of the door?
      Do I need help with the Card Collection? How hard can it be to navigate the Card Collection? Maybe I shouldn't browse the Card Collection until I have more time? All these thoughts occur to me as soon as I mouse over "door" #2 and over the 20 thumbnails in the Card Collection to discover that, when clicked, the thumbnails enlarge to reveal complete photographs and an irrelevant (or so I think) identifying number, i.e. A-4, C-2, and so on.
      The skinny? The Cards are greeting cards, and the HELP icon isn't actually a help icon, it is a link to a new window containing an order/contact form which finally reveals that these cards are greeting cards and that they're $4 each, but they cannot actually be purchased from the site (the photographer will contact visitors to finalize the sale).

Suggestions

The designer should consider renaming "door" #2 to Greeting Card Collection, and changing the HELP icon for either another icon or text that indicates the ability to order the greeting cards.

By this point, I feel nearly exhausted (especially when I've written about the experience). The designer has made me as visitor do a lot of work to UNDERSTAND just these two "doors" and how they work. If I come back to this site, I may remember this experience, and may remember how these "doors" work. Chances are that I will not return, if I am the average visitor.

My review would normally end here, except I wrote above that "the purpose of the site is hidden behind what appears at first to be two 'doors.'"

Appearances are deceiving

There are actually 4 more "doors" to this site.
      On either side of the frame are two thin arrows that subtly pulse every 3 seconds. Since my attention had been focused on the first two "doors," I had not noticed these arrows. The site actually contains 4 more "doors": Contacts, Gallery, Rates and Projects.
      As with the first two "doors," two of these new "doors", at minimum, should also be renamed to avoid confusion between the "door" and its contents. Contacts should be renamed to Contact or Contact Me to personalize the site a bit, and Projects should be renamed to Collaboration.
      The contents of Rates should be clearer. While 6 hours of coverage costs $1500, visitors do not yet understand this photographer's focus, as it is not defined in the site. If this photographer documents weddings, is this 6 hours of coverage for weddings? Or other special events? What if I want this photographer to come photograph my family, my farm, my pet, my graduation? Is 6 hours the minimum? Or can I buy just 3 hours of the photographer's time?
      Gallery is the only section of this site that is not confusing and, in general, met my expectations.

In addition to the recommendations made above, I would also advise the designer to

All this can be done at the top or bottom of the page, or both.

Editor's Note: Beware of your SWF Sizes

Slow LoadThanks for the great review, Mike. Our only complaint is from Mr. Pixelsmith who noticed the size of that arrival screen. While people usually don't notice the details during page loading, Mr. Pixelsmith sure does -- watching the size indicator of each new graphic as it loads. The web is one place where size does matter.

This entry page is a whopping 496 K. Probably 90% of the readers will click the back button upon arrival to this page. Who are you losing?
      When embedding such a file, delay loading a few seconds and provide a "Skip Intro" button as an escape route. If the SWF starts loading immediately, many browsers are held hostage while it loads and cannot click the Skip button.

The disturbing thing about many of the photographer sites (among others) is an inherent disregard of file size. Realizing that the photographer or artist wants their work to look as good as possible, there's a thin line between quality image and reader frustration.

Don't fool yourself into complacency by assuming everyone's got fast internet. They don't. One "friend" of the Design Center does resourcing at home in his spare time over a 28.8 connection using the AOL browser. (AOL times out on this page!) And, many of you will say "who cares about AOL surfers" -- except this photographer should care because our friend is an art director who purchases probably a half-million dollars worth of photography a year!

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