Bayer : Attacking the navigation challenge

Bayer’s new magazine uses a pop-out menu to guide readers.

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The feature

The Bayer corporate site, launched two years ago, is responsive but on desktop and laptop screens has kept conventional navigation: primary links across the top with a left menu giving access to lower levels. On small screens its switches to a ‘hamburger’ menu.  However the new Magazine – reached from a primary link – does not have a left menu. Its home page has a patchwork of stories, with headlines and images. Clicking any of these opens the article, while a small tab labelled Stories floats to the left. This can be clicked to reveal a slim panel listing the contents of the publication, with small images. It is closed by clicking anywhere else on the page.

The responsive site has two smaller versions – for tablet and smartphone. The tab does not appear on these – instead navigation relies on the breadcrumb trail, which allows return either to the magazine home page to one of its sub-sections  (Health, Nutrition and Life).

The takeaway

One of the big issues for corporate websites is what we call the ‘navigation challenge’ – how to make it look up to date without losing usability. We think Bayer was absolutely right to resist the temptation to shed the left menu when it launched its responsive site. There is ample evidence that complex sites are hard indeed to navigate without a clear and ideally conventional mechanism. But the winds of fashion blow hard, and the consensus is growing that sites should be clear of such ‘clutter’. While we disagree strongly with this, the reality is that the more sites appear without left menus, the more old-fashioned those are left will look.

The best compromises we have come across are hidable left menus, which can be triggered when needed. Bayer has made a good choice in trying out such a device on a magazine – where visual effect is more than averagely important. It is well implemented, creating a simple panel that reproduces the contents page of a print publication. It could never work on a small screen, so here the breadcrumb trail is an adequate substitute – a second ‘hamburger’ menu would be an alternative, but is not necessary on such a simple site.

A question is whether the approach could spread to the rest of the corporate site. We are not convinced it would work, at least without heavy modification. Left menus should be abandoned on complex sites only if you are quite sure you have a workable and effective alternative.
First published 27 May, 2015
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