Making Sense of the Chess.com Redesign Contest

A site redesign is more than just a visual overhaul.

Chess.com is eager to redesign their website. They’ve opened it to the general public as a contest, asking for users to submit a redesign of the homepage. The winner could take $10,000 and potentially a job. While that seems well and good, I do wonder why they wouldn’t just hire a design firm to do a full site redesign.

However, since the site is looking for notes on things that could be better, let’s talk about that. I am a user experience designer and a fairly new chess player. It has been a really interesting experience navigating online chess for the first time. I understand that in their redesign, chess.com is looking to balance their user base of returning players (that, in itself is varied by ability), to streaming viewers to beginners.

This is actually a really great moment for the site to pose this question — how should the site exist? What is working? What isn’t?

chess.com’s landing page.
chess.com’s landing page.

We could talk about the visual components, but that’s actually one of the last pieces in a redesign. One of the more important things is to make sure the site makes sense, and it’s an incredibly important thing to do right now. There’s still a boom from “Queen’s Gambit,” a lot of people are interested in chess, so how does a site keep that new user base involved while keeping returning users? This is the question every business must ask. It’s an important one for this because chess.com is marketing itself around being an online source for all things chess. “Queen’s Gambit” came out in the pandemic and that was a lightning in a bottle moment for the sport as a whole. Online chess can use this moment to try something new.

Below is the challenge the site has requested in terms of user experience (UX). Let’s talk it through.

One of the biggest questions that comes to mind here — who are these components for? The site has labeled it as primary, secondary, and social components. That’s too broad, nor does that tell us anything about their objectives by categorizing them in this manner.

We have:

  • Things a player might access (puzzles, playing a game, lessons). These player components vary on the user — lessons for beginners, or folks looking to brush up on tactics or plays.
  • People looking to be more serious about their game play can go to the tournament, or do a drill, or a puzzle battle.
  • The social element, which is a more casual component. Chess.com has a huge array of sponsored streamers, as well as the clubs you can join. There’s news and articles to read, the streaming content around tournaments, reviewing stats, etc.

So what does that tell us about the site’s goals for their user base?

  • Chess.com is meant to be a place where players can go play games with their friends, learn more about the game, and build their strength as a player.
  • It’s also a place for fans to come watch sponsored content, read about up to date chess news, follow along with tournaments and join clubs.

These two goals are very broad. In this rough breakdown I just built, I didn’t even include the site goals of getting people to subscribe to their membership, but I would consider that our third component.

Let’s look at their menu as an example of putting this breakdown into action. As we look at the menu together, we’re going to be looking at it while asking the question of “who is this for?”

Here’s the menu — we have a couple of different options. They’re kind of discernible. Play and connect seem straightforward, but I’m not sure about other ones.

Play drops down into play a game, join a tournament, play against a chess engine. That seems pretty straightforward, not too bad. However, I’m not sure why the library is in play if it should be in learn?

Puzzles has a lot of puzzles, but also drills, and solo chess (which is a puzzle). If I was a serious player who was studying for a tournament, I’d probably want to be clicking on “drills.” It could be better organized (what’s a puzzle battle?), but pretty okay otherwise.

Learn has some analytics, articles, vision (working on coordination training), there’s a library of opening moves. Why are news articles in the learn section? That stands out as something that doesn’t have a word association with learn. I mean, sure you might learn something about the game, or the overall history of the sport, or Magnus Carlsen, but that’s a lot of variation depending on what a user is looking for.

Today. This one confused me. I had no idea what this menu could be with a term like today. “Today” seems to reference their chess today page, where you can get up to date news on chess. Unless you actively follow Chess Today, a user wouldn’t know that. Today is also the menu where the twitch streamers and the events calendar are hiding! ChessTV is there too! That’s important to a lot of users — that should be front and center, easy to find, not buried in a drop down menu.

Connect is where you can find clubs, get a chess coach, go to the forums. That’s definitely a good term to use as an indication.

Then we get to more. More is a mess of stuff, some of which belongs in other places. Why isn’t there an easy way to find ChessKids for parents who don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for? Chess Terms, which is a dictionary of information, or the rules, why aren’t they under the learn section?

Conclusion

I hope you see a little bit more of what I mean. This is by no means all my thoughts on just the organization of the menu. An attempt at reorganizing to help a variety of users find what they need is critical to a site redesign. Chess.com has a lot of really great things they can offer their users. However, for the users to find it, this information needs to be in an order that makes sense to their users.

Looking at a redesign of the site, this is a huge opportunity to begin filling in a much needed gap of information access. Tons of new chess players are flooding the sport, eager to learn, and this could be a great moment to make the process of playing the game easier to access by all. Chess.com has that, and if they wanted to advertise to that group of people, to the viewers who watch their sponsored streamers, that would be a much needed niche to fill.

Jessi is a UX Designer at DIA Design Guild. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on twitter @jessishakarian.