The Tapas Redesign: A walk-through with a UX Strategist

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Hello there, Comicadia! I’m Melissa J Massey, a professional User Experience (UX) and Digital Strategist who has 8 years of experience building websites and making content for the web. You may also know me for my webcomics, Vatican Assassins and Black Ball

Out of the blue on Wednesday, comic publishing platform Tapas launched a brand new overhaul of their website, with no warning to their user base. Instantly I got flashbacks to the SmackJeeves debacle, which I did a more informal review of on Twitter. Having started a new job this week, I was not able to see the new site for myself, but from what I heard, I was expecting something pretty disappointing–another Webtoons clone in an already bland Webtoons clone market. Well now I’m ready to dive on in and give the new Tapas the ol’ UX Strategy once over. This means going through site and seeing how easy it is to browse, read comics, find navigation items, and other things that are integral to the Tapas experience. Did I run to the hills from an unusable mess? Let’s find out!

Coming onto the desktop homepage before logging in, it doesn’t actually look too bad. They’ve broken up the space pretty well, and we have a good idea of what the site offers, along with other basic information. I prefered the darker menu bar from before, but you can still see everything pretty clearly. No complaints yet, but let’s see how the reading and publishing experiences are.

Upon log in, we’re taken to the real meat of the new design–you are now brought to a landing page showing a whole bunch of different comics in various categories. Of course, the biggest section on top is for their premium stories, which makes sense fro ma business perspective but I can see how this will annoy readers looking for new comics.

The top menu is still in tact, though I wish the notification indicators on the icons were a tad bigger or still kept the number, this isn’t unusable or hard to see. 

Next we have some nice, highly visual sections showing trending across free and premium comics and novels. Again, no complaints here, though a genre breakdown would be nice. As always with Tapas, we don’t know how they determine “trending” but that’s par for the course with these comic reader sites.

So far, everything is actually nicely organized and intuitive. Also, the spacing is very well done; far enough apart to distinguish the sections, but not so far that things get lost or feel awkward. Tapas, you are full of surprises!

There’s a few more sections of comics and novels, both free and premium. I wish Tapas would better distinguish their premium content before I click through and discover a locked comic.

User profiles look pretty much the same but with less yellow. Personally, I liked the use of brand colors throughout the site as I felt it helped break up the white space and guide the eye a little better.Still, it’s removal hasn’t been a total deal breaker yet. Let’s take a look at what reading a comic looks like in this new design

Now instead of going directly to reading a comic with it’s information on the side, we get yet another page you have to pass through to get to content. And if you want the story description, you have to click again on the “Details” text link, which toggles between the episodes list and the summary. In current web design, you want to eliminate as many clicks as you can, because a click is a decision, and the more decisions your user has to make, the more likely they will choose to leave. There’s nothing wrong with the page itself–it’s laid out fine enough, and it’s pretty clear what to do, but as someone who has used Tapas for years as both a reader and a publisher, it feels so unnecessary. Another downer is the removal of custom headers. Unlike most app readers, Tapas gave you a higher level of customization with having the header and the series image to work with to help create an identity for your comic. I’d get it if they wanted to make a full banner an option just for their premium content, but even those series only have their cover. It feels like a very odd choice. 

Reading the actual comic feels almost exactly like new SmackJeeves but competent, and I’m not sure yet if that’s good or bad? Certainly it works better than SmackJeeves: there’s not awkward white spaces and the navigation bars are more responsive, but…it still doesn’t feel right. Even when the nav bars disappear, the screen feels crowded. The bars feel almost too big, particularly the top menu. At least for the most part, the symbols all make sense for what they do and why, and the flyout of the episode list to the right is a nice touch that allows for easily navigating within a comic. You can also jump down to comments. As any time, and navigate using the next and previous buttons without having to scroll too far at any time.

Again, spacing is really nice throughout. Next to your comments section, you have a “more like this” section and a “read next” section, which features comics from your library. I would have put the Read Next section on top but I get why Tapas is pushing their comics in this way. There’s nothing here that doesn’t make sense. There are features missing that I know creators really liked, such as the patreon banner and support buttons. Speaking of support, just how does one give their favorite Tapas comics support through the ink system? This was once a prominent feature on each comic episode, and now I’m having trouble finding it. Turns out, it was hiding in the menu in the navigation bar, along with the subscribe/unsubscribe option and report. Now it’s just “Support [user]” with the ink icon. Clicking the icon brings up a pop up.

It’s not very intuitive. You’d find it eventually, but for something that’s a fairly big part of the Tapas offering, it really needs to be more front and center. I would have put a support button next to the new and slightly unneeded like button under the comic page.  

(Support and like button images from Heart of Keol by keiiii.)

I went through the user backend with publishing pages and it works pretty much the same way. The only difference is less yellow. I was surprised but I was also prepared for the worst.

After hearing everything about the Tapas redesign, I am actually surprised. I was ready for a another Smackjeeves smack down where everything would be a disaster, but from a usability standpoint, there’s nothing really wrong with the update persay. The site works, it’s intuitive for the most part, and looks pretty good on top of that. The biggest question mark I have is the addition of the comics landing page, which is just an extra step that wasn’t needed. The old tapas page layout was pretty efficient in this regard, so why change it to something needing a lot more clicks to get to your content?

There’s a lot of features missing that I know people liked–the infinite scroll, custom banners, patreon buttons–that were nice to haves, but removing them hasn’t negatively impacted the user experience from a reader standpoint. The site itself is fairly solid. It just looks like another Webtoons/Smackjeeves/Graphite/whatever other comic reader that we’ve already seen a million times before. And I just don’t think it’s a good move, from a branding standpoint. Why make yourself look like your biggest competitor, when the reason you have loyal users at all is because of the things that make you different.

I may give Tapas the hard side-eye in general in regards to their actions in the past, but I can say without hesitation that the navigation experience is way better on Tapas than Webtoons, even on this new redesign but in particular on the old version. In a sea of Webtoons clones, Tapas stood out and felt more like it’s own thing, giving it some legitimacy (regardless of some of their other shenanigans). Something was lost when Tapas decided to look and behave more like Webtoons. We’ll see what that looks like over time.