Thanks for the link, Stephan - there are some very good ideas there, particularly the stuff about more logical grouping of controls, and additional functions like adding markers, etc.
The additional concepts shown in the wiki page are, to my eye, not a huge improvement on the existing site. They don’t really create any hierarchy of elements - so that the map UI controls, and the site controls are an equal weight, which makes it hard to concentrate on on set of controls, and ‘blur out’ the other. There are a lot of situations where lines and groupings are shown that don’t really add anything to the clarity of the page, too.
One thing I’ve tried to minimise is Chart Junk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartjunk). The rule of thumb I work to is: wherever you create a distinction (by changing background, outline, font type, weight, size or colour, proximity to other elements, etc), do it for a reason, and don’t use more distinction than you need to. This tends to keep UI’s ‘calmer’ and less cluttered looking, even though you’ve got just as many elements in view at once.
One thing suggested in the forum is *“It’s a good idea to focus on one particular element, because I think we may end up making iterative improvements to the front page design, rather than any big bang redesigns (possibly), and so design ideas like this could be considered separately.” * - I really disagree with that approach at this stage. There’s not really a strong, cohesive theme to the visual side of the UI at this stage - working piecemeal will only cause things to become more disconnected and confusing.
I would suggest setting up a flexible, extendible visual style that can be logically built up with new functionality - that’s what this concept is aimed at. If we can take the existing functionality, apply a good, solid, and simple theme to it, maybe it will be clearer where the problems and areas for improvement are. If we’ve got a good foundation, working iteratively can be much more effective.