Mercedes A-class

Arie Altena

This review is an excerpt from the book Website Graphics Now, an international source book on the best in Global site design. Website Graphics Now was edited by Mediamatic and published in Spring 1999 by BIS Publishers in co-operation with Thames and Hudson.

Colloquially known as the Baby-Benz, the Mercedes A-Class is a smaller car that should give the German industrial concern more credibility in a market that’s slowly becoming environmentally conscious. The Spanish website that promotes this next generation Mercedes tries to foreground the ecological aspects of the A-Class, but doesn’t really succeed: using a picture of the car coupled with a beautiful butterfly doesn’t quite do the trick. After all, there‘s not much that’s ecologically friendly about a petrol-driven car. But the site is much more successful when it comes to other aspects such as security, the variable use of space and this car’s more characteristic accessories. They also provide more possibilities for creating web-specific solutions for communicating the message, which is, of course, that the A-Class is a ‘car of the future’, suitable for a whole range of uses.

This promotion site, designed by Icon MediaLab, is straightforward and simple, and delivers the user the most important information about the A-Class in what seems to be an objective way, refraining from too much marketing language. A typographical grid forms the basis for all subsequent pages. An image, superimposed upon this grid, forms the centre, around which all other elements are clustered: the general navigation on the top, sub-navigation on the left, extra navigation on the right and text below.

The general navigation is used for reaching the six different content sections; the subnavigation is used for getting to the different pages within a given section. The extra navigation usually triggers the appearance of an extra window or a change in the image. Overall, this gives the site’s content a very well-structured ‘feel’.

The pages themselves look nice and compact. The predominantly black background goes very well with the metallic feel of the colours used in the images and the greys of some of the text. The grid keeps the five elements of a page together, and fits beautifully into the lines that indicate where pictures will eventually (when the site happens to be loading slowly). Good use is made of simple dynamic features like the highlighting of links, or images which change via mouse-over. Animations are only used when they can tell more than a still image, for example with the virtual crash test. Here lies the main advantage of a promotional brochure on the Web compared to one made of paper (it’s a pity, though, that no use is made of style sheets for the text layout).

What does seem somewhat strange is that very little use is made of the interactive possibilities that the Web offers: no feedback, no links to dealers, no comparisons to other cars, no information about where to book a test ride. On the other hand, this just might be the site’s strong point. It’s honest about what it is: a promotional product ‘brochure’, and, with its clear structuring and strong dynamic graphics, it’s a particularly good example at that.