I have been noticing that menus of all kinds–from websites to restaurants–have become more complicated and thus more and more difficult to navigate. The trend toward clean and simple seems to be reversing. Now, I would say most of the time when I go to a website, I am overwhelmed with visual tiles on the landing page, plus information revealed only to the enthusiastic scroller, menus layered under other menus, and pages that do not deliver as promised. It can take several minutes of clicking around to figure out what to do next.
This now widespread tendency to present the customer with confusing arrays of choices, and make it difficult to complete such simple actions as viewing a product sample, makes me wonder whether sprawling menus are not some kind of marketing strategy that increases sales. Non-profits are guilty of it–note the inscrutable internal workings of the College Board site–but most private companies are doing it, too. Just the other day my index finger got a big workout with the mouse merely trying to locate a demo for a tech product that the company was presumably wanting to sell to interested schools. Also, our school’s online portfolio and PD credits system is not really something one could teach to a colleague. You simply make selections and click the mouse, because neither logic nor intuition helps with the opaque setup. You just keep boldly advancing, and somehow the work gets done.
Also, SurveyMonkey used to be so clean and navigable when we first signed up for it. Now that the subscription price has increased, the service is becoming turgid. There are multiple landing pages that don’t seem to offer me anything new or helpful. It doesn’t seem as if the function buttons parallel one another from one page to the next. The site designers are starting to fold up one of the toolbars on the left, leaving you to decipher their runes to locate the item you need. I can still use the program, despite my annoyance with the designers’ compulsion to fiddle with it, because I’ve been a customer for so long. But I received a highly agitated phone call from my sister one day, who had signed up to create a simple survey, couldn’t figure out how to change the question type, and as a result kept re-entering the question. At that point, she would have been happier collecting her data via snail mail.
Even fast-food restaurants have become infected with the need to set up confusing menus. Lately at Subway, I can’t find the deal of the month on the 12-inch sandwich anymore. Availability and pricing are divided up into meaningless categories like “signature” and “classics.” If you study the panoply of boards enough, you might light upon the information you are seeking. Frugal tendencies may provide you with motivation enough to stand there scanning, for little reward.
I went to our town’s new Panera Bread, with lovely loaves arranged in a display window, and studied the menu in vain for mention of “bread.” I had to ask to find out that indeed, the soup was served with a bit of french baguette on the side. When I asked about the sandwich choices at Starbucks, which were fuzzy in ways I couldn’t put my finger on, the cashier explained that they had a tomato-mozzarella item that might not have been listed. Now that’s a head-scratcher. Why wouldn’t it be on the menu? To head off some local tomato shortage? Because the basil wasn’t fair trade?
Even at Wendy’s, I have a hard time locating the bargain items on the dense display. (Hint: they are grouped under the 4 for 4 dollars section.) A local Asian restaurant seems to switch cooks and offerings, enough so that instead of changing the main menu board, new menus are simply hung in available space at the front. I can think of five sources of ordering information in that establishment, including a page handwritten on yellow notebook paper. The menu slog is worth it, though, since the Thai food there is delicious.
Has anyone else noticed the trend toward complicated menus? Any thoughts as to why businesses are favoring this approach?