The Staples folks just launched their redesigned website.

Previously I had been mildly impressed by the folks working on their website and web applications. We are not talking about revolutionary/whizbang/insanely anything, rather just a cleanly put together site where things just worked very well. The quality of the site implementation was simply first-rate.

A few days back they sent out an email pre-announcement of the new site redesign. This is a mistake. You want to send out an announcement when (not before) the new whatever is live. Great, I read the message, you got my interest, and … it is not there yet. The power of the web is in immediate and direct connections. Pre-announcements are pretty much a waste of everyone’s time.

Took a look at their new site design today and … ouch. In short: drop-down menus, too small fonts, and an ugly fixed width layout. I wonder if they lost their old designer.®. that was easy™.

First, it seems the site now sports fly-over, drop-down menus. Argh. I know there are a lot of designers who think drop-down menus are cool (or “kewl”). I suppose this makes web pages look more like a “real” (i.e. Windows) application. This is a huge mistake. Likely the younger folks in their design group have grown up with Windows applications and somehow see drop-down menus as natural or maybe even essential to a “real” application.

Drop-down/pop-up menus did indeed once make a lot of sense as a design element.

Back in the early 1980’s when the Apple Macintosh and Windows were born, we had much smaller displays, less storage, and slower CPUs. The first versions of Windows ran on a CGA display at 320x200(!), and the Mac had a 512x342 pixel black and white screen. Small memory and disk meant the applications were small, and had a limited number of functions. Small screens meant you needed to present the application’s functions without taking up too much space. Hence “folding” the menus into drop-downs made a lot of sense. The designer could enumerate all the application’s (few) functions in the menus. The user could pretty much figure out what the application could do just by looking at all the menus. (Of course the typical “user” then was a lot less mainstream).

For applications crammed into small screens and small storage, drop-down menus were an elegant solution. That was a long time ago. There is no need for this sort of folding or cramming in a web application. None.

Oh nevermind. The are smart people who have already written at length on this subject. No sense in repeating.