Amazon’s new paint

~ 21 October 2004 ~

Is it just me, or did Amazon launch a major masthead redesign?

Just for the record, here’s the Amazon/A9 hybrid I spotted earlier today (note the A9 search bar which now appears to be part of the drop-down only):

New Amazon/A9 screen grab

And here’s the previous masthead:

Old Amazon screen grab

I see two great articles in the making:

  • Compare and contrast the former mast with the new one. Why the changes? Why does the concept work? Does it fail? How about the “All Categories” idea? Does it hold water? Can we expect to see other e-comm stores follow suit? The history of Amazon nav from two rows of tabs down to just two tabs? Etc.
  • Is the merging of and inevitable? When can we expect the two sites to function as one? Or can we continue to expect two separate sites but tighter integration? Pros/cons of sticking with two sites — one is a process (purchase) while the other is an application (search)? Etc.

I don’t have the time right now to dive into those two subjects, but if you do, pen an article and drop me a line. I’d love read your thoughts.



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1   Elliott Back ~ 21 October 2004 at 11:59 PM

Now that has more categories than it can count, it makes more sense for them to start integrating all categories together. It’s less confusing—imagine 50 or 60 buttons on the masthead!

2   steve ~ 22 October 2004 at 12:13 AM

Will they ever bother to make the slightest effort towards accessibility by including alt tags in their images?

3   Mike D. ~ 22 October 2004 at 12:17 AM

It’s sad that we’re still at a point on the web where this qualifies as a major masthead redesign.

I mean, you’re right, it’s major, from a strategy standpoint. But visually, it’s the same old low-tech, flat-color, no-dimension, inspiration-free nav bar.

Somebody please buy those guys a newer version of Photoshop.

4   Joe Clay ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:20 AM

I noticed this too. I was waiting on the search box to load and it never did. I rarely ever look at the masthead nav bar so it took a minute or so before I realized anything was different.

5   Greg Wild-Smith ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:56 AM

Its cleaner, and quicker to use. Plus it works with its existing branding.

I wouldn’t call it a major redesign tho, more a minor reworking.

Oh and to Mike D - its called consistant branding, and its the most popular site on the web, a) they can’t change branding so swiftly b) why would they? its elegant and friendly.

Flat? Lo-tech? What would you design? Some kind of horrible aqua-sih gradient job that is looking sooo damn tired and has been for around the last year or so?

It looks good, and they’ve tweaked it to work better.

6   Peter Gurry ~ 22 October 2004 at 02:02 AM

I still see the old masthead? Is anyone else seeing the old version or is it just me?

7   Greg ~ 22 October 2004 at 02:20 AM

Yeah, I still see the old one right now, though I saw the “new” one earlier today.

8   Jop ~ 22 October 2004 at 03:01 AM

I see the new version;
Good thing they changed the tab and account settings to plain text (at least I think they weren’t, looking at the old screenshot).
I agree with Greg, this site does well with this design, fast and flexible.

At first I thought I didn’t like the Welcome / All Categories tabs, but if you browse through the site it works really well with relevant categories below.

9   Dale Cruse ~ 22 October 2004 at 05:56 AM

Hmm… I see the old one in Safari but the new one in Firefox.

10   Peter ~ 22 October 2004 at 07:11 AM

This seems to have been included in some maintenance work to the platform. I think the change is much needed, I thought the little graphics that were previously tacked on (shoe, guitar, gold box) were cheap looking and didn’t fit. They’ve all been condensed or removed… now we just need them to move to CSS like Yahoo!

11   Allan Rojas ~ 22 October 2004 at 07:40 AM

This is weird. If i open amazon on FireFox 1.0PR the new design will show up but the header is rendered incorrectly; specifically the A9 search bar…

If i open it in IE6, it will launch the *old* design, even after deleting the cookie.

12   Cameron Moll ~ 22 October 2004 at 08:09 AM

I’m seeing something awkward here, too. I can see the A9 search bar in the masthead here on a work PC (both Firefox and IE, 1600x1200) but can’t see it on my Mac (Safari, 1152×768).

13   Blake Scarbrough ~ 22 October 2004 at 09:19 AM

I noticed they did something simular to this about 2 years ago, but it was only up for a week. They must be exploring it again, plus their search results have improved so that may warrant the new navigation, which is primarily a search.

14   John ~ 22 October 2004 at 11:00 AM

New masthead in IE6, old masthead in Firefox 1.0PR.

15   Bryan Haggerty ~ 22 October 2004 at 12:04 PM

Amazon has been testing this new design out for about a month or two now. Last month I used to get it a lot but more recently is has been the traditional look.

This is a fairly common practice for testing new designs (or at least I think it is cause I have heard of a few other companies do the same thing).

16   John F ~ 22 October 2004 at 12:06 PM

There’s a combination of likely things happening.

1) Amazon is only pushing the new masthead to certain browsers.

2) If you didn’t know already you’re actually getting a different Amazon (physical computer) more or less every time you hit that page. One of the things Amazon is able to do is publish changes to any number of live servers (1 -> n) and see what happens. This is one of the ways Amazon tests interface changes once ideas get that far.

Other sites do equally interesting things like pushing a different ad banner on each server, than using the proxy to dynamically direct more traffic to whichever banner is doing better at a given time.


17   Devin ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:06 PM

Interesting, the new masthead is very close to Even the colors are the same. Odd…


18   Mike D. ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:07 PM


Nothing about “consistent branding” implies that you can’t update your look with the times. Amazon, much like E-Bay, has clung to their low-tech, dialup-centric design mentality, and if their statistics say that’s the right thing to do, then fine. It may indeed be. But when you can make the site noticeably more attractive for a few extra kilobytes of design touches, I say do it.

My comment is more related to the pure production value aspect of the design, as opposed to the more overarching design issues that this post is about.

19   Greg Bair ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:14 PM

Devin, that’s because cdrom2go did the subway thing and let their competitor (amazon in this case) do the research while they reap the benefits of the similar design. Amazon’s interface has proven so user-friendly over the years that it’s duplicated just about everywhere. It’s not theft, it’s just good trend-watching.

Amazon’s new masthead is just a natural progression on its old one. cdrom2go’s masthead is just a natural progression on Amazon’s old one, too. I will say that cdrom2go’s look is much cleaner than amazon’s (though it’s easier when you have less products and a more targeted audience).

20   Greg Bair ~ 22 October 2004 at 01:17 PM

gack! that should be “fewer products”. My fifth-grade teacher is spinning in her grave.

21   Devin ~ 22 October 2004 at 04:11 PM

I agree. That masthead is popular, and with a focused audience it makes it even easier to design. I looked around at some other sites, and noticed is close to cdrom and amazon, but has a vivid orange color scheme to it. I hope it’s because of the upcoming holiday. I never shop, and those colors may be the reason alone. At any rate, I shop amazon because it’s user friendly, and they provide a great service.


22   typeweight ~ 22 October 2004 at 04:45 PM

My biggest gripe with this new design is that every “store” now has a blue header, instead of the section-specific color schemes of the old design. Makes it just that much harder to realize where I am within the site at any given point in time.

On the plus side, the new tabs are using Doug Bowman’s Sliding Doors technique, or at least they were last I checked.

23   Carmelyne Thompson ~ 23 October 2004 at 08:26 AM

I’ve never been a proponent of browsing for Navs or using dropdowns so it seems the All Category pages works in my book.

I just have a little issue on how they presented their categories. Although its reasonably readable, it takes atleast a couple of eye-scans to figure out the flow of the categories.

Maybe some visual cues can help it out a little or maybe some iconography thrown somewhere can help too. Visual cues that don’t look too busy just organized and diffferentiated since they have alot of categories clustered.

24   Keith ~ 23 October 2004 at 09:35 AM

I’m still seeing the old masthead.

25   Jeff Kenny ~ 23 October 2004 at 09:41 AM

I too see the old one in Safari and the new one in Firefox - why would they be doing any kind of browser detection, it’s not like anything they’re doing wouldn’t work in Safari…

And as for the design execution, while I understand these kinds of things are purely subjective, I’d have to agree with Mike D. Even a simple, subtle gradient in the tabs would make it seem a little more tactile and humanize it a bit more. I mean come on, look at their logo - yes I understand the whole “a to z” thing - but visually it’s a SMILE. Everything else on the site (interface, not products) is pretty flat and lifeless.

I’m okay with a flat/graphic approach to things if it’s an intentional style choice - but here it just seems like they were lazy.

26   Dan Jallits ~ 23 October 2004 at 12:48 PM

Amazon techies must have gone back to the drawing board when they found out that their current tinkerings do not qualify as a “major” masthead redesign by Mike Davidson’s standards (which I agree with).

27   Dan Jallits ~ 23 October 2004 at 12:56 PM

Amazon techies must have gone back to the drawing board when they found out that their current tinkerings do not qualify as a “major” masthead redesign by Mike Davidson’s standards (which I agree with).

28   Mike G ~ 28 October 2004 at 06:38 PM

They probably have an A/B (split-run) testing scenario implemented. Basically they split the traffic into 2 equal parts and send one half to page A and the other half to page B. If you simply switch to the new version, you won’t really know if your sales spiked because of the change, or because of the Ashlee Simpson iPod you launched at the same time. :)

29   Emmanuel ~ 30 October 2004 at 11:18 AM

I don’t like the new look. I think since Amazon has millions of users, they should keep their design. Even if new, fancy designs are out there… they should keep one thing in mind, why change something that works? Navigating through the site was almost automatic for me before.

As for navigating through the categories. Instead of one click to Electronics. I now have to do two clicks. All Categories -> Electronics. Not a big deal until you realize you visit that site so often. (I have it as my homepage).

If they really want this new design, I suggest they have it as an option in the user account. The data is separate from the design. They should easily be able to do it.

30   Peter Gurry ~ 01 November 2004 at 06:53 PM

Is is just me, or did eBay just redesign their homepage too?


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