Sliding, expanding, unfolding, cascading, fancy-pants hovering, animated navigational elements on web sites are the programming equivalent of pencil-twirling. Some people might say it’s cool, until they actually have to find something on the site. Then it’s just annoying and distracting.
I have an old friend who is a twirler. Mostly pencils, but I’ve seen him twirl knives, forks, plates, food, even sofa cushions. He’s the kind of guy who would walk across a college campus twirling a textbook on his knuckles. Manipulating poker chips is certainly a related skill.
I’ve always felt that twirlers and the poker chip twiddlers were sending the same message: “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m good at it.” The chip shuffling may intimidate other poker players. The pencil twirling just draws the attention of the rest of the people sitting around the conference table.
Most of us are twirl challenged. I never learned to twirl. I quit trying after about age 23. I don’t play poker, so chip juggling is not a skill set for me either. (Maybe I should take up Twitter.) My observation is that these people twirl things because they can.
So, what’s my point?
Take a look at the execution of your navigational elements on your web site. Are they twirling? I mean, are they distracting, or do they convey helpful information without forcing some kind of hovering activity on my end? Are the relevant sub-nav links visible?
Apple does a good job with their tab structure and grouping. Amazon even customizes the tabs if you’re signed in. It’s nice and it’s contextual. On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a site that uses some fancy stuff PLUS sound! It’s hard to read the tabs when you’re having so much fun strumming the menu like a musical instrument. It gets in the way of the visitor’s purpose.
Just because you CAN execute fancy navigational menus doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
If the purpose of your site is to get people to engage in your technology, by all means put the gadgetry front and center.
If the purpose of your site is to help people navigate a buying process, then get your pencil-twirling self out of their way and help them find the cash register instead.