Alchemical Arts Consulting : Transforming menus

Alternate navigation in the same place is the wrong choice.

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The Site

Alchemical Arts Consulting, a UK corporate communications agency, causes confusion by alternating use of a basic element of site navigation. Alchemical Arts’ recently relaunched website is distinguished by four large circular buttons in the header bar. Each is labelled to reflect a service stream (Human Putty Programmes, Pure Creativity, Corporate Communications, Consultancy Services), with the label changing on mouseover to a one-word definition (Learn, Create, Communicate, Transform respectively). Clicking on a button opens a contextual menu in the left-hand navigation serving access to secondary and tertiary content. A conventional navigation bar sits below the header, with options for About Us, News, Case Studies, Clients, Bios and Contact. There is also a side bar menu present on every page. When one of these is selected the side bar functions as a mirror of the menu in the bar. Each topic is linked to a single information page, which is reflected in the left navigation’s lack of deeper levels of content.

The Takeaway

The left-hand panel is a fundamental element of website construction and navigation. There are variations in its makeup and how it functions, but within a site these remain consistent and predictable. Both are qualities that underpin user confidence in the navigation and which are especially key if the site is trying something new or a little different. That’s certainly what’s being attempted here, but the dual function of the menu (sometimes contextual sometimes needlessly reproducing the primary bar) can make users shy of relying on the system. Further compromising the usability and the efficiency with which information is conveyed is the use of the header bar for what is the products and services menu. While visually arresting, the circles are not recognisable in this context as navigation buttons (they look like stylised banners) and their labelling is not consistently clear and intelligible. Putting them in the primary bar and herding its present constituents into a single multi-topic ‘about us’ section would make the site more usable and provide a better platform for the play of more creative elements.
First published 11 October, 2011
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