As a user experience designer and a fairly new chess player, I had a really interesting time navigating online chess. I understand that in their redesign contest, Chess.com is looking to balance their user base of returning players (that, in itself, is varied by ability) with streaming viewers with newcomers. This is actually a really poignant moment for the site to pose these questions: How should the site exist? What is working? What isn’t?
Chess players and user experience designers have something in common – we formulate plans before the opponent, or the user, makes a move. The job of the player and the designer is to adjust and modify the plan based on information. It’s about problem solving within context.
Visual components is one of the last tasks in a redesign. More important is to make sure the site makes sense.
When you hear design you think of the visual components, but that’s actually one of the last tasks in a redesign. One of the more important things is to make sure the site makes sense, and it’s an important thing to do right now. The “Queen’s Gambit” has been hooking a lot of people on chess. How does a website engage that new user base while keeping returning users? This is the question every business must ask. 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.
This is the task Chess.com has requested when it comes to user experience:
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.
Things a player might access (puzzles, playing a game, lessons). These player components vary depending 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 can go to a tournament, or do a drill, or a puzzle battle.
The social element is a more casual component. Chess.com has a huge array of sponsored streamers, as well as the clubs you can join. There are news and articles to read, streaming content around tournaments, reviewing stats, and more.
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 watch sponsored content, read about up to date chess news, follow tournaments and join clubs.
You don’t want to overwhelm new users, and you want to make sure they have access to the lessons.
Let’s look at one portion of the potential user base, the new players. The amount of information that new players must navigate is a precarious balance. You don’t want to overwhelm them, and you want to make sure they have access to the lessons. Chess.com could use the redesign to work on turning this user base into recurring users, and secure an edge over the other major chess apps. Here’s an example of a portion of the site that could be redone:
A Queen’s Gambit themed page with links for new players would be an idea – a portal for new users to be able to quickly access the basics of the game, chess fundamentals, or basic opening moves. They could link to lessons within the system, understanding how to read the chess.com computer analysis. This area would also serve to introduce the sponsored twitch streamers, link to calendars of streams and of tournaments, help players find local clubs, and get them actively involved.
Tons of new players are flooding the chess scene, eager to learn, and this could be a great moment to make the process of playing the game easier to access by all. From this perspective, the redesign of the site is a huge opportunity to begin closing the information gap.