Whitbread : Going nowhere

Clickable elements cause confusion by not performing any obvious function.

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The Site

Whitbread, a UK-based hotel, coffee bar and restaurant company, offers an unexpectedly limited invitation to visitors to explore its world. Whitbread’s home page is led by a full-width feature panel that consists of an illustrated city street scene, with the caption 'Explore the World of Whitbread 24/7'. Within the animation colourful arrowed location pointers flash when the page is first loaded. Hovering over an arrow reveals a panel containing a snippet of information about the Whitbread business to which it is pointing in the city scene. Clicking a pointer does not lead to any further information and the only action it triggers is the reloading of the page.

The Takeaway

All is not what it seems with Whitbread’s home page. On first sight, its main feature appears to be highly interactive – arrows flash, while a headline encourages users to explore. The sense of interactivity is furthered by the appearance of information panels when hovering over any of the location pointers. Visitors are, understandably, likely to assume from all these signs that a click will take them further. However, that’s as far as the exploration goes. The failure here is in expectation management – the feature is too engaging for its own good and promises more than it’s set up to deliver. Whitbread would do well to remember the usability principle of ‘every action must have a clear reaction’. In giving its visitors the opportunity to take an action but offering no reaction by the site it will confuse and disappoint many.

First published 09 August, 2012
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