BC tip: Bristol-Myers Squibb - Return of the left menu, mobile-style

An American pharmaceutical company uses its mobile navigation menu on the desktop, with mixed results.

The Feature

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s new responsive corporate website uses the same navigation device on its desktop and mobile versions.

On a desktop, the device appears on the left side of the screen and is always in view. Clicking on any of the hyperlinked menu items, eg ‘Job Seekers’ takes visitors to the page.

If there are further layers within the section, an arrow appears to the right. Clicking this, displays the next level of sub-menus. A ‘Main Navigation’ link appears at lower levels, as well as a link to return to the previous level.

On a smartphone, the menu collapses behind a hamburger icon, and when clicked, works in the same way, but it takes up the entire screen.

The Takeaway

We have noted how ‘Mobile-first’ design led many corporate sites away from left menus on desktops, at a great cost to usability. Now things have come full circle at Bristol-Myers, with mobile navigation being adapted for desktops.

In practice, the device operates much like a traditional left menu, especially at upper levels. It usefully stays in place as you scroll and provides a logical structure for first-time visitors. It condenses five layers of navigation in a compact device.

One downside is that at lower levels, it can be tedious to move between sections without a universal primary bar across the top of the site.

It is also not clear whether it gets around the perceived problems of the left menu which have led to them being dropped – it takes up at least as much space on the screen as a conventional left menu; and in this case, is (in our opinion) less visually appealing than a conventional left menu, so it is hard to see it catching on.


BC tip: BMW Group - A hamburger that should be off the menu

The German carmaker’s odd variation on the hamburger menu requires its own instructions.

The Feature

There is an unusual-looking hamburger menu on secondary and tertiary pages on the BMW Group’s corporate website. The three lines of the ‘hamburger’ are partially overlaid by right arrow or ‘greater than’ sign (>).

Clicking the icon (or the accompanying heading itself) collapses all of the tertiary or deeper level headings contained on the long-scrolling pages into a menu of ‘jump links’. For example, if you click on the icon on the ‘Company Portrait’ page, all of the tertiary options on the page collapse into a menu – ‘A consistent focus on the premium segment’, ‘Our strategy’, ‘Board of management’, etc.

On a smartphone, the menu comes with its own instructions: ‘Show an overview of the topics on this page for selection,’ which were absent from the desktop version.

The Takeaway

The designers of BMW’s variation on the hamburger menu make the mistake of assuming visitors to corporate sites want or need to take time to learn specialised navigation. Many users of corporate sites come too infrequently for it to be worth the effort, and will likely just be confused and frustrated. Even for frequent visitors, the mechanism is still fiddly. And the instructions on the smartphone version are unclear.

Maybe there should be a rule of thumb – if your hamburger needs instructions, take it off the menu.


Online jobseekers – rise of the mobile awkward squad

Pew Research recently published its findings about how Americans use the internet to search for jobs

The weight of evidence has so far suggested that when it comes to job searches and mobile devices, people are more likely to seek information on their mobile device (browse jobs/see what the company is like), and leave the complicated business of filling out the application until they get to a desktop or laptop.

It seems more Americans (esp. young Americans) are trying to actually do their resumes/CVs and fill out online applications on the phone itself. Pew says of the 28% of Americans that have used a smartphone in a job search, half of these have tried to fill out an application on their device, and about a quarter have tried writing their CV. Maybe not surprisingly the report says they are finding this a frustrating experience.

The question for companies is should they attempt to respond to this trend in some way, by making it possible/easier to fill out mobile applications on their websites, or if by doing so they degrade the desktop experience (a real danger in the age of responsive sites). Certainly less complexity in corporate online applications could benefit users of all devices. Something tells me that, like with most other online trends, the question is not ‘either/or’ but ‘both’. In other words, they’ll need to try to cater for everyone – the rising mobile awkward squad and the ‘desktop dinosaurs’.

- Jason Sumner

I like optimists but ...

... the prediction by Investis that 'by 2016, 30% of visits to corporate websites will come from mobile devices' seems like wishful thinking. We track usage on a spread of corporate sites, and the numbers are nowhere near that - they cluster around 5 to 10 per cent. One crucial point is that we need a breakdown between tablet and smartphone - most standard sites can be read reasonably easily on a tablet (though there may be problems with things like dropdown menus), whereas on a  tiny screen you really do need something different. Another question is around growth - we have seen a doubling of both smartphone and tablet traffic - but the experience of companies that had mobile sites for several years is that usage flattens off. There's a simple reason for that - it's easier to look at complex information on a big screen, and most people in most countries have access to one. That's why we say you absolutely must consider the mobile user, but if you let your concentration on desktop users slip you will regret it - they are, for the most part, the same people. 

One of my colleagues says he will eat his iPhone if the Investis prediction is right. I will post the video if he does. That should go viral. 

- David Bowen