Mike Swope critiques the Preemies R Us web site...
Preemies R Us
Preemie and Newborn Clothes for the premature baby
Having had a son born prematurely a year ago, I know how good it feels to find clothes to fit the smallest of newborns. This e-commerce site seeks to fill part of the preemie clothing niche. Although I do not know too much about the preemie clothing market, the Preemies R Us e-commerce site is one of the better adapted osCommerce powered sites that I've seen.
osCommerce is a popular open source e-commerce software solution based on PHP and CSS, which means it will run on any web server with PHP enabled. Having used StoreFront, a competing e-commerce software solution in a Microsoft ASP environment, I found osCommerce to be a much more elegant and customizable solution. Not only does it come with fair instructions about how to change its appearance, it also relies on CSS for its appearance, which means that some changes such as color are accomplished in the single stylesheet. No doubt these are two primary reasons that Preemies R Us chose to use osCommerce to power their shopping cart site.
The Preemies R Us team is clearly technically proficient, and has made code changes to the site to remove the flat, gaudy graphics in the default installation, change the store logo, and insert both graphics and text into the site outside of the product catalog to create a competent e-commerce web site.
Overall, Preemies R Us has been well-customized. This is judged by the transparency of the customizations. Most of them feel natural, not forced. While many osCommerce sites retain some if not most of the images and colors of the base installation, Preemies R Us has changed most of these aspects of the site. The editor has used throughout the site several shades of baby blue and pink (commonly used to indicate boys and girls, of course), which helps underscore the newborn theme of the site. No better colors could be chosen for this theme.
That isn't to say that color is used 100% effectively throughout the site. It is not. The text in the baby blue bars is white, making them very hard to read. This text appears in the "breadcrumb" at the top of every page, at the top of the sidebar boxes on both left and right sides of the page, in the footer bar, at the top of the product listings, etc. This white text can be made a richer shade of baby blue for legibility, which would make navigating the site and making sense of the sidebars considerably less work. A simple change in the stylesheet. Link colors could also be improved. The white text links in the baby blue bars in the product tables turn to gray when moused over, making them nearly invisible (similar chromas as the baby blue). In these cases, the links should become considerably darker, even darker than the suggested richer blue, so the change is both immediately apparent and legible.
The rollover link colors in the navigation and in the online product catalog, too, suffer from a similar problem. The links change to a light baby blue when moused over, making them nearly illegible. Making these links change to a similar blue as discussed would eliminate the legibility problems here, too. More simple changes to the osCommerce stylesheet!
Though the Preemies R Us team could have changed out many graphics in the default osCommerce installation, the only graphic that has actually been changed is the store logo, in this case a simply done blue and pink formal script logo. The large 'R' in the logo interweaves with the rest of the logo, making the logo more interesting and setting a tone for the entire site. The logo is one of the better additions to the Preemies R Us web site. Perhaps the best choice the Preemies R Us web team made was to remove or comment out code that displayed most of the default Microsoft Word-like graphics throughout the site rather than simply replace the graphics with transparent GIFs of the same name. Fewer graphics mean improved load times, perhaps the catalyst for this decision. Of course, the significant time or cost expenditure to make a hundred or more custom graphics might also have guided this decision! Either way, the decision was a good one with clear benefits.
This web critique continues on the next page...
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