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The Internet has changed a lot in the last decade, but one relatively steady presence has been the home page of Amazon.com, the Web’s largest retailer. The site has gotten more visually cluttered, for sure, and ads for the new Kindle models now usually take up the prime spot. But some elements, over the years, have remained endearingly consistent and exasperating to graphic-design connoisseurs, like the three-pane layout, heavy blue margins and cues in that awful dark orange, the color of the arrow in Amazon’s logo.
Now it seems like Amazon.com may be considering a total makeover. Last fall, the company began testing a new two-pane design, which seemed less cluttered and friendlier to tablets and other mobile devices with limited screen space. During these tests, which Amazon internally calls “Web labs,” some users saw the new design; others did not. (I saw the new design on my home PC, but not on my work computer.) Last fall, interviewing CEO Jeff Bezos before the launch of the Kindle Fire, I asked about the new design and he dismissed it as nothing more than a test whose outcome was being studied. (You can be sure the data-obsessed company was tracking and measuring every bit of feedback on how customers responded to the different designs.) Then, during Amazon’s busy holiday season, the radical new layout seemed to disappear.
Yesterday, it popped up again (on my office PC this time.) The new design, displayed here in a screenshot I grabbed, is remarkable for what it stresses: Amazon’s digital assets, including its instant video service, music store and app store, which are highlighted in a horizontal bar on the top of the page. Entirely gone is the familiar product category tree along the left side of the page, with its light blue background, which had gotten stuffed with 16 listings including home, garden & tools and automotive supplies.
Last October, in an entertaining rant mistakenly posted publicly to Google Plus, former Amazon engineer Steve Yegge claimed Bezos was reluctant to change Amazon’s look and feel. “Bezos just couldn’t let go of those pixels, all those millions of semantics-packed pixels on the landing page,” wrote Yegge, who now works at Google. “They were like millions of his own precious children.” Of course Amazon’s practically antediluvian design has worked quite well for the company, which notched a record $48 billion in revenue last year. But as the revived home page test suggests, it may finally be time for Amazon’s pixelated children to grow up.