Yesterday, I got to visit The Capitol.

If you’ve been reading the books, the site’s name alone’ll make you want to visit it.  Even its domain extension is cute – .pn for Panem.

The Capitol "Homepage"

The site doesn’t feel the same without the sound, though.

Promotional Strategy – Sufficiently engaging but not customizable

The strategy’s engaging enough for, at least, a one-time visit.  Which Hunger Games reader woudn’t want to know what District he’d belong in and what job he could have?

Unfortunately, I was expecting more of a quiz-slash-personality-test type exercise, similar to those facebook “Which Harry Potter character are you?” things, but hey, the Panem ID idea probably still worked.  Since I bet its objective was just to draw pageviews anyway, more than really give a personalized experience of the “Hunger Games mythology”, a la Pottermore.

The ID’s look was enough to get me to click to the site, too.  It felt like something concrete, something a Panem citizen would have on-hand, if you could imagine that much.

First impressions – Exciting slice of what the movie could feel like

I liked how the site looked and initially “felt”.  Industrial visual theme, subtle background sound of machinations and danger, which is kind of how you felt it would sound when you were reading the bits where Katniss and Peeta first arrive in the Capitol.

Usability – Some interesting elements, but navigation generally cumbersome

The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t realize I could scroll, in the first few seconds.
Although, I also didn’t realize that the site seemed to be missing a navigation bar, all because I was already so interested in registering for an ID. (I guess this points to how content or “need” can trump usability if a user wants it bad enough)

Buried Horizontal Scroll

Later on, after trying to take a screencap, I realized that users were supposed to scroll horizontally.  I wasn’t going to complain about this, since I don’t think horizontal scrolling is as much of a hassle as much as Jakob Nielsen usually says.

However, I have to admit that it was unwieldy.  It’s not like it responds to Apple’s sideways scrolling, nor did the arrow keys or a usual Windows interface or mouse support horizontal scroll.
So, since the scroll bar and arrow buttons were below the fold, you really had to keep the site content consistently not at the top to get to move through the site.  Either that or you’d keep having to scroll up and down.  And I’m not even working on an 11-inch netbook.

“Missing” Navigation Bar

Moving through the site panels made me realize also that the scrollbar seemed to stand-in for the “navigation bar”.  I don’t know if they thought it would make the site cleaner, through less elements.  All I know is that I had to mouse-over each scroll “marker” just to get to read where I could navigate to.
It’s actually a pretty “shallow” site, in the sense that you can’t click-through most of the sections to get to separate landing pages.  I don’t mind that, it seems like the site’s objective was to just support the launch of the movie anyway.

It was just annoying, at times, since you really had to try mousing-over and clicking over titles just to see whether they’d go anywhere.

Not-too-legible news crawler

An especially annoying bit was this “news ticker” they had which was only around 3 inches wide, showing around 7 words at a time (just eyeballing it, I didn’t actually average how many words I could read in a second), displaying what seemed like a few sentences worth of instructions and descriptions.  It would have been worlds better to just see it in bullet or paragraph format so I could just scan through the whole thing, instead of forcing my eyeballs to go through 7 words at a time moving pretty fast from left to right, for a space that narrow. (Or maybe I’m too old, I don’t know.)

Slick and easily findable social layer and ticketing links

Onto the good points, I really liked the execution for the ticket purchases and how there was a constant call-to-action in the upper right-hand corner (disappearing only when you’d scroll down to get to the scrollbar.

Same goes for the upper-left corner collection of links to external pages and social network pages.  Looks…smart, and made me want to “visit the districts”, although I was disappointed to see it just pointed to facebook community pages for each district.  But again, maybe that’s what the Hunger Games core target wants.

Overall

Again, I think the site’s successful, in that it achieves what it’s supposed to do – drum up support for the movie launch.   The promotions and main site delivery remind me of the book “Baked In”, since the idea of the site was inherently appealing and the “packaging” works because it was cohesive and aligned to the theme.  The site looks cool, it was just hard to use, for someone who would have wanted to really immerse herself in it.
Oh well.
I’ll still watch the movie, I still like the book and I still like Katniss.  Usability issues are but a tiny part of brand love anyway 🙂

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