BC tip: McKinsey - Expandable sidebar

A creative variation on the ‘click-to-expand’ menu could be useful for corporate website articles.

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The Feature

An article on crisis management on McKinsey.com, the website of the US-based management consultancy, has a ‘click-to-expand’ sidebar.

On a desktop screen, the sidebar appears as a box in the left column – ‘Sidebar: Are you prepared for the worst? Twenty-five questions executives should ask themselves now’. (On a mobile screen, the box is centred across the screen.) Clicking on the ‘plus’ sign in the box expands the full story on both smartphone and desktop screens.

The Takeaway

The expandable sidebar is a neat design feature that could be adapted to improve the way corporate articles are presented online; as an alternative to pop-ups, tabs or more conventional ‘click-to-expand’ menus.

A few caveats, however – the sidebar is well down the page, meaning visitors may miss it. The heading, ‘Sidebar’ does little to draw visitors in (and may not be understood by all readers). It is also worth considering whether the ‘plus’ sign is familiar enough to indicate to readers that clicking on it will reveal more information.


BC tip: Obama.org - Making digital history

The Obama Foundation’s online timeline about Barack Obama’s life could provide inspiration for corporate digital history features.

The Feature

Obama.org is a new website set up last week by the Obama Foundation to raise money and attract sponsorship ideas for the former US president’s planned ‘Presidential Center’ in Chicago.

‘Our story’ is a section on the site looking back at Mr Obama’s life and time in the White House. It is available to browse as a chronological timeline or by eight chapters from ‘Chicago: Where it began’ to ‘Our first tech president’.

The Takeaway

Former President Obama will no doubt have more dedicated readers than most large companies or organizations, but the innovative ‘Our story’ has a lot of ideas that could be adapted for a corporate history feature.

The structure is clever, in that it allows for scrolling through from start to finish or dipping in and out of the eight chapters and multiple ‘milestones’, which are discreet elements such as ‘President Obama Delivered His Farewell Address’. The chapters are interlocking, and ‘related milestones’ are frequently suggested to send readers off in different directions.

The layout is clean and the photography striking, with plenty of multimedia (video and audio), embedded tweets, pull quotes and calls to action at the end of chapters. All politics aside of course, there is plenty here to inspire.


BC tip: The Pool - Calling time

Does stating how long it will take to read online articles make for more ‘engaged’ readers?

The Feature

The Pool, an online magazine aimed at women that was launched last year, puts labels on all of its stories and videos saying how long they will take to consume.

Subject feeds, under ‘News & Views’ and ‘Fashion’ for example, promote articles with a headline, summary and a circle saying ‘1 min’, ‘2 min’ etc. The articles themselves have these circular signposts as part of their headings, sometimes appearing right under the title. The drop-down panels in the primary navigation also use the device for featured stories.

The Takeaway

We can see the appeal of signposting reading or viewing times for online stories, where attention is scarce and infinite scrolling automatically invites the question – ‘when will I get to the bottom?’ The scroll bar used on most sites does the same thing but less explicitly. As a reader, there is a comfort in knowing ahead of time how long it might take to get through a piece.

Time stamps could be appealing in a corporate context (and we have seen at least one corporate online magazine using them). However, clicking around the Pool even briefly, all of the signposts can start to make the site appear unduly preoccupied with time, although this may play into the brand’s attraction for a ‘busy’ audience.

The precise timings, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 23 minutes, etc, invites the cynic to ask who is the presumably ‘average’ reader on which the measurements are based; maybe better to be more vague – ‘short’, ‘long’, or time ranges. Used sparingly and in the right context, it can’t be a bad thing to let people know a rough idea of the time investment before they click.


BC tip - William Hill: Gambling on a grid

A UK betting company’s home page overwhelms visitors with image panels.

The Site

William Hill’s corporate website home page has a series of image panels below the scroll line, with the invitation to ‘explore’ the company’s press releases, corporate announcements, features, etc.

On a standard desktop monitor, the image panels are arranged in a three-column grid, collapsing to a single column when the responsive site adjusts to a smartphone screen. A filter lets visitors select categories such as Financials, News and media, Responsibility, Innovation and About William Hill.

The Takeaway

The topic grid, which appears to be modelled on news sites such as the BBC, misjudges how corporate website visitors find information. Some corporate audiences, such as analysts, want direct routes to the pieces of information that they need, and will use the primary navigation. Pushing corporate messages to them in a complicated grid below the scroll line is unlikely to work.

Even corporate website audiences with more time to explore and get to know the company, such as jobseekers, are unlikely to be impressed. The grid is below the scroll line, making it harder to see; the number of panels is overwhelming and not differentiated enough; and the headlines are uninteresting, based on internal categories such as ‘media releases’ rather than things audiences will be interested in.

News sites can get away with panel grids because visitors come there expecting to browse; corporate websites need to be more creative to draw people in.