News Corporation : Hacking up navigation

Mixed use of a menu throws users off track.

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The Site

News Corporation, the Murdoch-controlled global media company, has created a confusing mash up of corporate and industry sector content in its universal navigation. News Corporation’s website features two horizontal menus, one above and one below the header. The top line, which is configured to look like a set of tabbed headings, covers broadly corporate content (for example, Corporate Governance, Press Releases, Investor Relations). The lower line is set above the content pane and offers six menu items, one for each operating division; for example, Television, Filmed Entertainment, Publishing and Cable Network Programming. Clicking on a division heading populates the main content area with relevant information and in four cases generates a tailored video viewer and carousel in the left-hand navigation. These latter elements are positioned below a menu listing five of the headings from the top line, including Press Releases, as well as Business Unit News. Clicking them also populates the main content area and with the same content that is invoked by clicking the corresponding headings in the top line (highlighting there of the current section indicates Business Unit News is a sub-set of Press Releases).

The Takeaway

News Corporation has certainly produced a website that is an entertainment in itself for anyone trying to use it, though its lack of coherence is no cause for amusement. On first sight it appears to be following the accepted model of splitting its universal navigation to give greater prominence to the product/service (operating division) sections, with corporate areas becoming a subsidiary bar above the header. It subverts this, however, by populating the left-hand navigation with a near-identical version of the corporate menu – when the convention and expectation would be for it to carry secondary headings for the current primary section. Even that is disguised, and further confusion guaranteed, by also including elements in the left navigation that are section-specific if the product/service bar is in use. And then, just in case a glimmer of logic remains, a new heading is substituted in the corporate mix – Business Unit News – to support the illusion that the left menu may be coordinated with the operating division sections. Unravelling the navigational mash-up to produce a coherent and intuitive system is not so daunting a task as might seem. The key is to return to a more conventional use of the left-hand navigation column, so that primary elements – the corporate section headings – do not appear there. Instead, it should reflect the sectional content in the main display pane – and not News Corporation’s apparent difficulty in coming to terms with the medium.
First published 02 February, 2012
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