TJX : The joys of simple navigation

TJX, owner of the TJ Maxx retail chain, uses a neat navigation system on a cost-effective site.

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The feature is a notably simple corporate site, with striking blocks of colour making it stand out from current fashions.

It does not have a left menu for internal navigation, but instead uses multiple horizontal menus at the the top. Passing the cursor over a main link (eg Investors), a row of secondary links appears below. Holding the cursor over one of these (eg Filing and presentations), a third row appears. Click on one of these (eg SEC Filings), and a page appears. At this point the second row menu stays in place, but the third one disappears – it comes back only if the secondary link is moused over again.

In some case, the third  level menu also contains fourth level pages – for example the menu under Responsibility > Responsible business includes Governance and its sub-pages, such as Board of Directors.

The takeaway

We are always on the lookout for sites that manage to combine usability with a modern look. If they do not cost a fortune, so much the better. While we have yet to see anything as usable as an 'old-fashioned' left menu, TJX's approach shows a plausible way forward – though implementation is flawed.

The advantage is that, like a left menu but unlike a dropdown panel, the menus stay in view. This makes it easy to see what other pages and sections are in view, and also means they can be highlighted for good orientation. The problem is that TJX keeps only the first two menus in view. When at the third level, its menu disappears – which means it is not particularly easy to move around within these sections.

Were it to keep the third level menu in view, and also introduce to a fourth level where necessary (rather than jamming the third and fourth level links into one bar), it would be exceptionally usable. Make it 'sticky', so it is always at the top of the screen when you scroll, and you would have something rather splendid.

We can hear the minimal navigation folk shouting that it will take up too much 'real estate' (or some such). It doesn't: each menu is shallow, and even if there were four menus in view, it would hardly impinge on the visual impact.

If you are struggling to make a 'no left menu' structure work, it's worth considering this approach – it should be possible to introduce it without a major rebuild.
First published 08 November, 2017
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