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Review of Harvey Nichols’ 2nd Website of 2004

Harvey Nichols’ first web site was an ambitious attempt at a rich and stylish online experience.

It failed, because it buried the essence of the brand experience under layers of unnecessary interactivity and animation. See my original case study »

The 2004 redesign solves all the major problems. It projects the right mix of personality and product, is faster, easier to use, and lots more fun.

The new experience

When harveynichols.com first starts loading, you’re presented with a classic black and white box layout. The page appears quickly and immediately shows striking and stylish fashion images.

Harvey Nichols.com home page

Text is smart white-on-black, and the whole site has a clean art deco feel that fits in perfectly with the decadence of the brand.

I normally recommend black-on-white for all main content text, as lots of light-on-dark is hard work, but this is a fine exception. We don’t go to Harvey Nichols to read, and text is kept to a sensible minimum. While not a particularly pleasant combination, I think the classiness carries the argument.

Tongue in cheek

So that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the classic art deco is countered with cheeky sketched Flash animations in the top title banner. These are fairly heavyweight – I picked up 700kb worth of Flash movie browsing half a dozen pages.

However, I think the designers have struck a sensible balance with these animations.

The key here is that animations aren’t critical. Without the Flash, the pages are still clean and elegant, with just a bit more wasted space at the top than you’d expect. You wouldn’t think you were missing anything.

This is a perfect application of Flash – working inline alongside standard HTML to provide an enhanced experience for those who get it, but without compromising the others.

I think these banners strike a great tone: they’re irreverent, carefree and playful, and just a bit sexy.


Side navigation is minimal and clear enough in pink-on-black text. The main nav is arranged horizontally under the title banner, and made up of images, which can take a bit longer to arrive (not shown on screenshot).

Overall, the information architecture on the new site feels loose and browsable, with plenty of "scent leads". It’s easy to browse around, and you never get the feeling that the site is too big, or stuff is hard to find. Another definite improvement.


Product shots on the home page

In addition to the main fashion shot, it’s great to see several other product offerings further down the home page.

This is just what I wanted to see in the original site: an interesting view of the breadth and depth of what the Harvey Nichols shopping experience has to offer.

More product shots deeper in the site (Must Haves - Living)

Browse further, and the whole site displays well-shot and interesting imagery.

The ‘Must Haves’ sections do a good job of picking out especially desirable items, which keeps the casual browser happy and maintains an air of exclusivity.

It’s great to see Havey Nicks showing off their fantastic window displays on the web site.

More product shots deeper in the site (Must Haves - Living)

Any criticisms?

Just a few small ones…

Site map

There’s a fairly unusable site map, one long list comprised of 3 levels of nested bulleted lists. I get the feeling this was provided more for the benefit of search engine crawlers than consumers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be nice to use.

Search results

Search performs quite well, but makes the mistake of telling us what it can’t do. Why do I want to know that "the brand directory didn’t return any results"? I didn’t even know there was a brand directory.

I also find these results somewhat dry and text-heavy. I don’t really feel like clicking on any of this stuff. Where are the enticing images?

Search results

Mouseover crime

Mouseover crime: text becomes un-highlighted

The hover mouseover effect on the side navigation makes the mistake of un-highlighting.

If you use a visual mouse-response indicator (which you should), it must be positive. Negative highlighting feels like the link doesn’t want to be clicked.


I think this redesign is right on the money. It achieves a perfect balance of posture and product, elegantly achieving the business, brand and consumers’ objectives.

HN invited 5 agencies to pitch for the redesign, and they certainly made a good decision in appointing Tribal DDB (in July 2004).

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