First, I have to be honest. I’ve never been a big fan of the Microsoft.com site.
From the outside in, this site has always felt like it’s operated by tribes of warring stakeholders who don’t give a fig about what the others are doing. The net result is littered all over the site. Designs that change at the drop of a hat. Use conventions that never quite knit together.
And then there’s the site’s global navigation which is – IMHO – a bit of an oxymoron. Land on the top of the site and you can easily fly over to any section. Tumble into a product rabbit hole, however, and you’ll have to dig your own way out.
As it turns out, these behaviors have wreaked havoc with Microsoft.com’s competitive usability scores over the past three years. Today, it ranks 15th out of the 23 sites on the eBusiness Index—down 4 slots since 2010. And here’s the real rub. In a world where most sites’ consistency, innovation & interactivity perform at good and best practice levels, Microsoft places second to last (Insight.com is worse).
Of course, hope always springs eternal, and that was my headset during my latest Friday surf-a-thon through the Microsoft site. Three interesting things stood out.
- On the plus side, some areas of Microsoft.com are starting to evolve to the new negative space, less-is-more designs that are rolling out over the IT Web – but
- Inconsistent designs & behaviors are still the name of the game – and
- To counter the constraints of the site’s new “less is more” page designs, fat footers are being used to deliver navigation that ended up bumped off of pages.
It’s the fat footer issue that’s the real learning moment. Why? Because the whole point of white space designs is to let the content do the walking for the visitor. To use contextual navigation to draw them to the content you want them to see. When negative space pages are properly designed, you don’t need a blizzard of “hail Mary” navigation links stuffed in a fat footer. In fact, I’d argue that if visitors actually use these links, it’s a sure sign that there’s something wrong with the page. (Think of it as A/B testing without the cost.)
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