The only real functional change we’ve made in the new homepage beta is the elimination of the dropdown menus that were there before (other changes involve aesthetics, content, or underlying code). I have noticed a few comments and questions about this change, and it is definitely one that we will be testing specifically to see how it affects users’ ability to find content from the homepage. For people who are familiar with the old homepage navigation and who had their favorite method of getting to their most visited pages, any change can be disruptive. But how do dropdown menus affect people who are not familiar with the University or its website?
The reason for trying to eliminate dropdown or flyout menus generally is that they don’t often work as expected on newer touchscreen devices like the iPad and other tablets. Dropdowns usually work on “hover;” you hover over a menu item with your mouse and are given the option then clicking on the original item or one of the sub-items. On touchscreens, there is no “hover.” There is only touch. This can lead to touchscreen users having to click a menu item twice before anything happens, or getting stuck behind a dropdown that keeps popping up.
During usability testing I am planning to divide users into two groups: one group will use a version of the site with dropdown menus and the other without. I’ll be curious to see how significantly — if at all — the absence of dropdowns affects people’s ability to quickly find other sites and content.