Alterabita : Refurbishing navigation
Too much is asked of a preview feature.
Alterabita, a French portal for sustainable homes and property, has replaced conventional navigation with a system of preview panels.
Alterabita’s site is marked by a lack of any navigation panel on the left of pages; the main content area is ranged left and runs across two thirds of the page width. Navigation is primarily controlled from a horizontal bar below the header panel that is split into two independently operating rows. The top row consists of eight section headings (Ecohome, Ecomaterials etc); rolling the cursor over a heading highlights it and opens a panel connected to and immediately beneath it. The panel contains a small image, an introductory paragraph and a set of sub-headings, each of which has its own list of topic links. Clicking a link populates the main content area and closes the panel.
The lower row has five headings covering news and services (for example, professionals yearbook, my account, property notices). These have no preview facility or sub-menu and launch straight away on click in the main content area.
Alterabita is not long launched and its use of preview panels to summarise the nature and scope of a section’s content is a refreshing idea that could help browsers or those looking for specific information to find the right journey, especially in the context, as here, of a new or unfamiliar site. But asking the feature to provide the main framework for moving around the site is loading too great a strain on it.
Two immediate disadvantages that outweigh the benefits are the need to keep returning to the heading in order to move around within a section or to check the menu options; and the inherent instability of rollovers, which is a handicap rather than merely an irritant for people whose control of their mouse is unsteady. The extra page width gained may have motivated the scrapping of left navigation on what is a text-heavy site – less scrolling being the payback – but the extended width flirts with the comfort zone for online reading. All in all, Alterabita shows how a break with conventions in such a fundamental of site construction can easily become unsustainable.http://www.alterabita.com
First published on 15 September, 2009