Olam : Spacing out

Poor formatting of a left-hand menu clouds its clarity.

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The feature

Olam, a Singapore-based agricultural products and food ingredients supply chain management company, sows the seeds of misunderstanding in its navigation menus. Olam uses conventional left-hand menus for in-section navigation across its site. Line spacing between items is tight and is not varied in cases where a heading runs to two lines. Headings also use initial-letter capitals throughout; for example, Industrial Raw Materials. In some menus, two-line headings can be read as separate items: for example, in Products & Services there appears to be an Ingredients option, but the word Ingredient is coupled with the line 'Spices & Vegetable' above it; in _Careers> Who We Are_, Our Talent and Development Focus are on two lines but one item. Conversely, in Sustainability the two items ‘Governance’ and ‘Vision & Principles’ could be read as one. Groupings become clear on mouseover, when the full heading is highlighted in green.

The takeaway

The confusion seeded into the reading of Olam’s left-hand menus stems from two specific formatting problems. First, the tightness of spacing between lines and the lack of differentiation in spacing between headings means multiple-line menu options can be mistaken for separate single-line items – more so as users are accustomed to menus of ‘one liners’ – or be taken as one when they actually are two. (The contradictory interpretations also undermine any possibility that users can ‘learn’ how to read the menus.) Second, beginning each word with a capital letter compounds the difficulty in judging where one item begins and another ends – a capital for the opening word only would clear away a lot of the confusion. The format offers no obvious benefit (aesthetic or otherwise) to trade off against the time-consuming double-takes and misinterpretations it induces. Shortening the headings to fit one line would only work in tandem with dropping the wide-scale capitalising of words. Adjustment to line spacing is the simple and obvious route to greater clarity,

First published 09 October, 2012
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