A New Way To Navigate At Microsoft.com

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Microsoft.com is one of the most visited websites on the planet, and the #1 corporate website, with some 250 million visitors each month worldwide. An impressive stat indeed, however not without its challenges. The site serves up thousands of pages and addresses the interests of millions of customers – thus stressing the importance of a very robust and comprehensive Information Architecture.

To address customer feedback, Microsoft introduced a new home page. The purpose of the new page is to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. This release also introduces Microsoft Vista-like design elements and a dynamic new navigation paradigm designed to improve discoverability and increase engagement and customer satisfaction. The design is based on data of the most common tasks, products, and services that people come to our site for, and then we validated and improved the design during months of customer testing. The new navigation system and information architecture have been designed to works as a shuttle system that ideally takes people where they want to go helping them have greater success in finding information.


In addition to a new navigation system, the navigation menu has been placed on the right side of the page. Customers told us it was too hard to find what they were looking for on the home page. So we separated the main navigation menu from the featured announcements on the page. This separation makes it easier for customers to either scan the announcements for new items of interest, or dig into the site navigation. Moving the menu to the right side of the page turned out to be the solution that looks best and makes the menu easiest to find.

The new version of the Home Page has undergone rigorous testing that includes usability, customer mental modeling and interviews, a multi-phase beta program, stakeholder involvement and review, subsidiary collaboration, and monitoring of blogs. Extensive in-market beta testing has yielded an incredible increase in customer satisfaction with discoverability, as well as positive trends in customer engagement. I consider these results to be a good indication that we are moving in the right direction.

There is definitely room for further improvements – but this will only come after collecting more data and tracking customer behaviors. Furthermore, the navigation system will become even more powerful once it is fully adopted throughout the entire Microsoft.com network of sites. Visit Microsoft.com or Microsoft.ca today and play around with the navigation system – I would love to hear what you think!

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5 thoughts on “A New Way To Navigate At Microsoft.com

  1. Geof Harries

    I noticed the change a few weeks ago and am generally quite happy about what’s been accomplished. It’s fantastic to see Microsoft utilize iterative design for their website rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water each time around.
    That said, there’s a couple of information design decisions that I just don’t get.
    1) With the separation of navigation from announcements, it’s definitely easier to figure out where you want or don’t want to go. Problem is, there is a visual disconnect between the four key elements on the homepage.
    The left side of the page looks like a lot of time was spent on getting the styles looking attractive and consistent, but the right side of the page appears to be pulled in from some other website.
    The white background on the All Microsoft Sites widget is visually tied to the “feature ads” when in fact its content or purpose is not. The banner ad below feels out of place. I’d like to see more flow and progression here, using gradients or colours to guide the eye down and across the page.
    2) I’m sure Microsoft places the needs of Safari users far down on its list, but the All Microsoft Sites drop-down functionality is broken in the browser. How? If you click the arrow up, the window rolls up, but then you can’t click it back down again, unless you Refresh.
    Actually, why does this All Microsoft Sites area even exist in the first place?
    I question this because it seems like all of the content here could be easily relocated into the area below the announcement banners. They appear awfully similar.
    3) If you resize the text on homepage, only two sizes up lays the body text over top of the footer. Why wouldn’t this just be a float on the footer as to always compensate for expansion?
    Again, definitely a step forward, but some elements to me are actually steps backwards compared to previous editions.

  2. Colin Smillie

    I think the new design looks alot better, great re-fresh for the site.
    I’m not sure I like this right navigation interface. From what I can see the open nav window just makes the rest of the page unclickable. Not really clear to me how this is better.
    I’m also seeing some problems with Firefox, specifically if you scrolldown after the nav window has openned.

  3. Salima Valji

    I enjoy getting comments – it confirms people are actually reading and are interested in what I am writing about – so thanks!
    Tim – I’m glad you like the changes!
    Colin and Geof – you have asked some great questions.
    As you can appreciate, the design and testing all occured in Redmond at the headoffice. So unfortunately I cannot provide answers at this point, but I have contacted the team that did work on the design and hope to have some responses within the next few days – stay tunned.

  4. Salima Valji

    Ok – so I have some responses for Geof and Colin.
    First let’s answer Goef’s questions:
    – The new version of the new home page was tested for full optimization on IE 5.5+ and Firefox, the audiences which make up the large majority of Microsoft.com users. It was also tested extensively on other major browsers including Safari and Opera to ensure that users could complete all tasks on the page.
    – The expand-collapse functionality has been included in this launch to prepare users for future implementation, but is not critical functionality to successfully completing all tasks. This feature is a peak into the future, when the “All Microsoft Sites” navigation menu is extended to other sites, and that functionality becomes an important part of navigating between levels of content.
    – The “All Microsoft Sites” comprises the main, persistent navigation that any website has. This “evergreen” directory will have minimal changes, and has been designed to consistently represent content sets for users. The tabbed area in the center of the page is content that rotates frequently based on customer needs such as popular links, product releases, and other shorter-term messaging.
    And Colin – regarding FireFox problems -This page was tested for full optimization against Firefox. This is a known rendering issue discovered post-launch that is currently being worked on by our technical team and should be fixed soon.

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