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I, Robot

Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
I, Robot (20th Century Fox)
April 2004
This is the primary site for I, Robot, and it falls into the "sorta-immersive" category, as do many these days. For the most part, it's a standard "press kit" site, with the usual grab bag of plot synopsis, cast and crew interviews, trailer access, downloads, a couple of sweepstakes, and some eBay auctions, wrapped in graphical theming appropriate for the movie. They also try to bring the visitor into the I, Robot world, in a couple of way, but, sadly, most of them fail.

The "prelude" screen to the main, Flash-based site tells us that a murder has taken place and invites us to help solve it -- when you "complete your objective", you'll be able to retrieve some "locked data files". This is reinforced by a "breaking news ticker", which contains some short news items about the death of one of the movie's characters and the release of a new line of robots. Unfortunately, there's no real investigation game going on here -- if you poke around the site and return to the home point for the site, you discover that you are meant to carry out the investigation by, well, poking around the rest of the site. Every time you go to a new part of the site, the home page reports that you are now, say, "38% complete", and, as you visit additional parts of the site, the percentage goes up. When you've explored the entire site, you reach a screen that lets you download some concept art about the robots in the form of a screensaver. Predictable, and I suppose it could motivate people to explore the site, but it ultimately left me cold.

In addition to the press kit information, there are a few Flash-based "time-wasting games" themed around the movie (save a Flash-based Will Smith from an attack by the evil robots, etc.), a quiz to test your knowledge of Isaac Asimov's writing (a nice touch, actually), and a link to a "Robot Lab" where you can design your own robot. This, not surprisingly, is the same site as IRobotNow, although it has its own URL ( OK, but uninspiring.

When I started doing this museum, I told myself that I was going to focus on the content and the marketing utility of the sites, and save my usual whining about usability for my other life. But, for whatever reason, this site really rubbed me the wrong way. In the future, the designers need to take a deep breath, think of your users, and build a site that conveys your message while also respecting what they need to use it. In particular:
  • Just because Flash lets you move stuff around on the screen doesn't mean that you should move it around. Give the hyperactive animation a rest.
  • Is the three-point text all over the screen really supposed to be unreadable? Or just make the page look busy?
  • Several sections of the site have very long Flash lead-ins that the user has to sit through before getting to the main interactive section. "Bypass" buttons exist, but the screen design is so busy that they fade into the background and are, at best, difficult to find.
  • It's a good idea to present the press kit information with a bit of movie-related theming, but there's no synergy here between the theming and the content. Cast and crew information is under "Chicago Police Department", and trailers other media are under "Downtown Chicago"? Was this the only metaphor you could think of?
  • Do we really have to invent new ways to close a pop-up box with every new site? Sigh.
  • There's a popup window that offers information about showtimes, which is fine if you don't mind spewing pop-up windows on your users's displays and are willing to ignore all the data telling us that people hate popup windows. Meanwhile, the number of people with pop-up blockers on their browsers is growing quickly, and will jump considerably when the update to Windows XP comes out this fall. Campaigns relying on pop-up windows to get their message across need to make other plans. In this case, it wouldn't have been hard to build the showtime search control into the main site page -- this avoids the pop-up, and additionally keeps the offering in view throughout the interaction.
Sorry. I really didn't want to rant, but this site is a good example of design run wild. All the information you'd want in a site is here, but the design did nothing but detract from it. It would have been much better if the designers had done half as much.

Something positive about this site: it's a good example of the growing importance of the international market -- you can choose from eleven different localized versions of the Flash component of the site -- two versions of english, two versions of Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean -- and a front-page offering of a link to get information on international release dates of the movie. It's clear that the studio has big international plans for the movie, and we're going to see more of this sort of localization, especially for the big "tentpole" movies, as time goes on.