General Motors : Creating a bumpy ride
Retracted left navigation compromises usability for style.
General Motors, a US-based auto industry giant, has introduced a retractable section menu system that gives a shock to navigation.
Within the primary Company area of the General Motors (GM) dotcom site the About GM and Investors sections open with the section menu signalled but not visible in a thin panel on the left-hand edge of the page. The panel has a vertical label reading from top to bottom (About GM Menu or Investors Menu, respectively) and two inward pointing arrowheads. Mousing over the panel expands the menu into the page to reveal an index of topic headings.
The left menu headings do not display sub-menus on click. Instead, pages use a variety of different systems to offer deeper-level items; for example, the Corporate Governance page in Investors has a right-hand menu, while other pages use tabs or in-page links. In some cases the sub-headings can lead out of section – for example, Corporate Governance> Board of Directors opens in the About GM section – in which event the left-hand panel changes label but remains in the default closed display.
GM has taken the dropdown menu device and turned it not on its head but on its side, creating a kind of slide-in menu drawer in place of a conventional left-hand navigation bar. But while this retractable menu saves space and allows for a more striking design within sub-sections, the compromises made to facilitate it take a heavy toll on usability.
One downside is that users are deprived of an at-a-glance view of the other areas of the section. Instead they must manoeuvre the cursor over the closed menu panel to reveal content – an action that quickly becomes tiresome when browsing multiple pages, as is likely in both sections. The discrete positioning and display of the panel also accentuate the confusion caused by the poor practice of building in unsignalled switches between main sections. Equally frustrating of easy navigation is the limited depth of the left menu when allied to the inconsistent handling in pages of deeper-level menus and navigation tools. If this were one of its vehicles, it’s hard to imagine GM would be happy to make it such an uncomfortable ride, however stylish it looked in the showroom.http://www.gm.com/company/investors.html
First published on 07 August, 2012