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An international peer-reviewed journal

When Left Might Not Be Right

Xristine Faulkner and Clive Hayton

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 4, August 2011, pp. 245 - 256

Article Contents


Conclusions

Overall it has to be concluded that there was no real difference in the performance of the two menus, and that there does not seem to be any valid reason other than taste to place the menus on the left-hand side of the screen. There was no factor that influenced the positioning of the navigational panel. There was no evidence that longer experience and exposure to the Internet meant that users were more inclined to expect and want a menu on the left. Nor was there any evidence to support the contention that the right-hand menu appealed to the participants because of its novelty. It would seem that the position of the menu plays no serious part in browsing the Web and users are readily able to accommodate to the menu design wherever it is placed. This view is supported by the research of Kalbach and Bosenick (2003) and Kingsburg and Andre (2004), though in the both these cases they did find some small differences in performance time. Kalbach and Bosenick concluded that these differences were not significant and that left-handed menus were not significantly more efficient than right placed ones (2003). The conclusions from this experiment have to argue the same thing and rather more pointedly. The findings cannot support a significant difference in the performance of the two menus, and at times the results are conflicting. In defence of these findings, it has to be said that this study used larger numbers of people (85), but as the participants were all students and staff at a university, it might be argued that this particular study was biased by the particular group used for this experiment. Again, in defence of the findings, the students were taken from across the university and represented a wide range of backgrounds and ages.

Given the current state of this research, it has to be concluded that the positioning of the menu should be dictated by the needs of the user, the site, and the wishes of the designer. There appears to be no concrete evidence to support the placement of the navigational menu on one particular side of the screen. Convention should not dictate that placement. Web designers should place menu and navigational structures where they believe the user would like to see them, and that might be in different parts of the screen depending on the user, the task, and the nature of the screen design. Another way of viewing this issue is to notice that the right-hand menus performed with very little difference from the left-hand ones, and this is despite the fact that the major design on the Web is for left-hand justified menus. However, that does not mean that designers can swap between elements. A site should be left-hand menu driven or right-hand menu driven. It should not consist of some pages with left-hand menus and others with right-hand menus.

The Christmas Shop Web site itself was very simple indeed. Scrolling was kept to a minimum; there was no scrolling on the homepage, payment page, and about us pages. There was scrolling on the products page. So it might be that if a user needed to scroll more, the right-hand menu would have performed better than it did, despite its novelty value. However, not all users like scrolling, and some aren’t particularly efficient at it. For example, often the elderly are much slower at scrolling than younger users. If scrolling has to take place then perhaps it would be wise to consider a right-hand navigational panel in order to keep navigational controls close together and to save user effort in another direction.

There is a one final issue that perhaps would make the right-hand menu placement an attractive consideration for the Web site designer. Often designers encounter the problem of keeping a user on a Web site long enough to make a purchase, so choosing the fastest and most obvious design might not always be the best decision. Menu placement might thus be dictated by more than making the user’s activity as typical as possible. The issue might be is it possible to keep the user on the Web site long enough to buy a product or perform a task? At the same time, potential buyers need to be kept on the site in a positive frame of mind; they can’t be trapped there, frustrated by the difficulties of the Web site.

As this study found there was no statistically significant difference in performance time nor in ease of use. A right placed menu might be worth considering if the design would be improved by not placing the menus in a conventional position.

However, it has to be remembered that this study used a single performance metric—time. It did not attempt to gather qualitative data from the user other than their response to ease of use for buying and navigation. In other words no satisfaction levels were measured for either version of the site. And although there were no statistically significant differences in performance for between both versions, it might be that users had a preference for one version over another. Although an earlier study failed to prove any difference in user attitudes between left and right placed menus, again user satisfaction with menu placement remains an area that needs to be re-examined in any future work.

 

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