Natty Narwhal isn’t the only thing new today in Ubuntu. Along with it, and as you may have already noticed, we have updated some areas of the Ubuntu website, including a fresh new homepage.

What’s new?

This overhaul of the website focuses on improving and refining the experience for users who are new to Ubuntu and who we want to entice and convert. We have taken a better look at how Ubuntu’s most important features and characteristics were (or weren’t, in some cases) being shown, and whether visitors’ most important questions were being answered.

Several things have changed. Firstly, rather than having separate sections for Desktop and Netbook (and as a consequence of the move towards Unity), we have created a single section called, simply, Ubuntu. We have also added a direct link from the main navigation area to a new Download section, making the different download options more visible.

Under the new Ubuntu section, Ubuntu’s features are given the spotlight. Rather than having a long list of screengrabs as before, various tabs take you through a more detailed tour of the most exciting and useful features.

The Web browsing features page
The Web browsing features page

In the new What’s new? section you can see what has changed from previous versions of Ubuntu.

Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page
Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page

The new homepage is cleaner, more focused and it shows off some of Ubuntu’s features from the outset. The new design also solves one of the biggest performance issues the previous version suffered from: very large file sizes, which rendered the page too slow to load.

Ubuntu website’s new homepage
Ubuntu website’s new homepage

These larger updates to the site started earlier this year. In March, the Business section (which was previously divided in two sections, Server and Cloud) underwent a major restructuring. The main objective was to make it easier for businesses to find out about all that Ubuntu, and Canonical, have to offer them.

The new Business section
The new Business section

Why the change?

These updates didn’t just pop up from nowhere. Last December, we carried out intensive user research to see how the website was performing. During these sessions, we interviewed users of different platforms and with different backgrounds. We analysed their paths through the websites, we heard their questions, took note of their concerns and observed their “awe moments”.

The findings from our analysis showed that although users found Ubuntu compelling, they were having difficulty finding answers to their questions on the Ubuntu website, and some of the most interesting features didn’t have the prominence they deserved.

The findings analysis phase
The findings analysis phase

This happened not only for end users, but also for business users, hence the update of both sections.

Whilst the overhaul is visible in both the design and structure of the website, we have also been trying to (slowly) improve what’s hidden behind the scenes.

We (as Canonical’s Design and Web Team) are conscious of the fact that both the markup and the code behind the website can be greatly improved. Our ultimate goal is to make the code that powers Ubuntu’s website as good as Ubuntu itself. We want it to be indicative of our standards.

This will make the website more easy to maintain and it will reflect on how accessible it is (which is a consideration that we’re striving to keep present throughout the entire process, not only in the coding phases of the project).

Steps in the right direction

To create these new pages, we have compartmentalised the new code so that we could experiment with creating better code. Our goal is for the new code to be more accessible, more flexible, more modular, less convoluted, less redundant, more performant and more robust. Our markup can be cleaner and more semantic.

One of our main concerns regarding the current website’s design and code is its lack of accessibility at some points. For this matter, we spoke directly with the Ubuntu Accessibility team to register their worries and suggestions. The main items that transpired from this session were:

  • Some colour combinations don’t provide enough contrast between background and foreground
  • Text should be easier to resize, using relative units (such as ems) rather than absolute ones (like pixels)
  • The copy should be clear and concise
  • Some of the text is too small
  • There are visibility issues in links and navigation

This chat was helpful as it helped to consolidate the issues we were aware of, surface other problems and most importantly provide us with a real world view of how these can disrupt users.

We have begun addressing some of these in the new designs and will continue to do so in the coming months.

What the future holds

You can expect more and better updates to ubuntu.com within the next few months.

The main focus of our work will be making the website more accessible and easier to navigate by following current web standards and bringing it up to the Ubuntu and Canonical standard of quality; the code should be easier to manage, the content easier to update, and the message clear.

We’re confident we’re heading in the right direction. We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and comments.