After completing my tour of manga sites, I was left with some general impressions, and since I can’t seem to shut up about this, I thought I might put them down in hopes of getting it all out of my system. Keep in mind that I’m not a web designer, just a frequent visitor to sites like these.
My first thought is that the lowest common denominator of all these sites is (or should be) encouraging visitors to purchase the products on display, or at least leaving them wanting to learn more about them. With that in mind, there’s one element I think all of these sites should contain: a comprehensive, up-to-date list of titles currently in print.
Ideally, that list would be the easiest thing on the site to access. If it can’t be featured on the front page in some way, it should be no more than one click away. It should also be easily identifiable. Coming up with cute tags for the sidebar can be fun, but if creativity obstructs clarity, it ultimately isn’t serving all of a site’s visitors.
With that basic, alphabetical list of product in place, I would suggest providing links to specific information about each title on a separate page further into the site’s structure. If it’s a multi-volume series, provide blurbs for each volume in print. Creator biographies are always welcome as well, as are previews and sample pages.
A caveat of that recommendation is to move information from the general to the specific as the visitor explores more layers of the site. Instead of putting large, potentially slow-loading preview images at the top of a section on a title, put them deeper into the site’s structure. They won’t hinder a casual browser, but they’ll still be readily available and logically placed for those who are interested.
Once you’ve got the easy-to-use A-Z index in place, it’s always nice to provide people with choices of how they search through your listings. Some visitors will be interested in a specific creator, so you might offer a list of manga-ka with links to their work. Others might be interested in specific genres (adventure, romance, mystery, science fiction, etc.) or categories (all ages, shôjo, shônen, josei, seinen, etc.). Supplemental sections highlighting new releases and release calendars are valuable for some users, especially diehard manga fans who track these things. People will be looking for titles through different lenses, and if your resources allow you to provide different options, by all means, do so.
When making design choices, I would always recommend erring on the side of simplicity and functionality. Anything that obstructs a visitor from information on the product you’re trying to move is probably a bad thing, no matter how cool it looks or how fun and fiddly the code was to write. It goes back to the lowest common denominator theory above; visitors might be very eager to find out about your books, but they may not want to wait until the chibi ninja dances across the screen to do so.
That’s obviously a tough call to make, as nobody wants their web pages to look sterile. (Okay, I don’t care if mine does obviously, but I don’t publish manga.) But if the function of your pages is to provide information on your product and encourage people to buy it, the form should ultimately reflect that and accommodate users.
If you’ve got a web site, you’re obviously aware of the multiple uses of the Internet. One of those is publicity, and many bloggers, on-line columnists, and news sites are eager to link to information about specific titles that they’re covering. If at all possible, make that process easy for them by organizing your site in such a way that there are direct links to individual titles. You obviously want people to visit your site and find out about your books, so keep the paths clear for people who want to help you do that.
One thing that I haven’t really addressed here is on-line community development. It’s not really a priority for me as a user, so I’ll leave it to others to talk about those issues if they’re interested. I will say that it never hurts to provide a venue to interact with your customers and for them to interact with each other. That said you might want to make sure you have adequate resources to deal with moderation issues that will inevitably crop up.
I would also reiterate the least-to-most-specific notion here as well. Not every visitor plans to visit the clubhouse, so don’t let that atmosphere overwhelm your site’s professionalism or usefulness. This ties in with moderation as well; if the content of the messages in your forums don’t reflect well on you as a publisher, don’t put that content right out front where a customer might find it off-putting. Make forums and other fan venues easy for the invested visitor to find, but don’t leave any of the clubhouse clutter lying around in the foyer, if you know what I mean.