King's New Strategy - Quick and Cheap

By | Monday, March 04, 2024 Leave a Comment
You likely haven't noticed but King Features gave their Comics Kingdom website an overhaul last week. Not just some new visuals, but the entire structure and seemingly the back-end systems have been renovated from the ground up. And it sucks.

I know it's common for people to claim the new version of anything sucks because it's not the old version that they're used to, but that's not the case here. Let's start by taking a quick look at the home page. Here's the old home page (from the Internet Archive) on the left and the new one on the right...
Notice anything? Setting aside the visuals that show absolutely zero comic art on the new version (technically, that large black field does have some comic artwork embedded in it, but that barely registers on many screens; I couldn't see it at all on the first screen I looked at it on) how about the fact that you can't actually get directly to any comics from the initial page load? Oh, you can scroll down and get similar links but the old version allowed readers to immediately see and click to some of the offerings. That is bad user interface design.

It continues once you do click on a comic. In the old version, you'd click on the comic you're interested in and you'd be presented with the latest installment. From there, you could either navigate backwards one strip or call up a calendar to select a specific date you wanted to look at. The new version drops you on an "Overview" page and you have to click again to see the latest comic. You're also presented with the nine previous installments before that as well. If you want to check out a specific date, you have to go back to the Overview page and then... wait for it... scroll through a list of every date listed out individually. Oh, you can switch the order to go from newest to oldest or oldest to newest, but with a title like, say, Hagar the Horrible -- in which they have posted 10,618 different strips -- good luck finding anything besides the earliest or latest ones. If you want something from the late 1990s, you've got zero option but a hell of a lot of clicking through page after page after page.

My thought in looking at the redesign was that maybe this was set up by some programmers who maybe knew how to operate Photoshop but didn't have any training in user interface design. But on closer inspection, I don't think that's the case.

One thing that King was very keen on with their previous site was ensuring that it was as difficult as possible to scrub their live site for comic images. You could dig your way through a page's code to find that day's image, but the file names were all encoded, so they never followed an identifiable pattern. Therefore, you couldn't set your site up to embed the latest strip by just increasing the sequence. The new site does away with that and presents every image in the same, easily predictable format: Comic-Title.LANGUAGE ABBREVIATION.year-month-day.jpeg
In fact, it's so predictable that it would be easier to re-code a page with a specific date than click through all those pages manually to get to some late-1990s Hagar strip!

Here's another thing that caught my eye in checking out the site: all of the images are placed in a directory called "comicskingdom-redesign-uploads-production." I've been working on websites professionally since 1996 and do you know who names directories like that? No one. At least no one working in a professional capacity. The "comicskingdom" part is redundant since the files are already on the "" domain; "redesign" is too tied to the specific redesign project and won't be applicable in six months; and if you need to delineate your development versus production environments by actually calling the directory "production" you must be using some really questionable practices for migrating files from one to the other.

I've also heard from others that folks who had subscribed to daily emails of their favorites have been unsubscribed without notice. Further, their favorites list isn't even available when the site is viewed on mobile devices. And even though the favorites do appear on desktop browsers, any more than two and they'll display too wide to fit in your window. Plus it only shows three at a time before you need to click a "Read More" button... which only presents the next three.

Look, I know firsthand that redesigning websites is, even under the best circumstances, a bit of a nightmare. But everything about this site tells me that it was created by someone with little to no professional web experience of any kind. And I do mean someone. Everything about this strikes me as the work of a single individual who had almost no additional input. It was designed to look and work okay on their particular setup and no one else's. None of this was run through a QA process of any sort. Any professional programmer would've caught the file and directory name issues. Any graphic designer could've pointed out any of the dozens of design issues. There's so much of this that could've been addressed if even one other person -- not even someone with web experience -- said, "Hey, this doesn't look right on my machine."

Maybe it was some kind of package deal. King paid some company that had a plug-and-play software setup, and they uploaded some graphics and just let it run automatically. Fill out a few blanks on a form and you've got a website in thirty minutes. Kind of a Mad Libs approach.

Either way, this was done on the cheap. Every aspect of this site that I can see screams of shortcuts and a lack of oversight, and that it went live like this shows King was okay with that. Their lack of concern is blindingly obvious. I don't say that to disparage the people in charge of the site or even worked on it (for someone who clearly isn't a professional, it's actually not terrible) -- it could easily be the case that someone at their parent company, Hearst, demanded a redesign and allowed them precisely zero budget. So that lack of concern might well be dictated from the top. But if you need a professional example of "you get what you pay for" this definitely qualifies as a prime example!
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