There is no excuse for confusing site navigation

I am moving countries with my family in 3 weeks, so I have been doing a lot of account canceling over the past week or so.  For the most part, it’s a pretty smooth process.  But that changed when I encountered the labyrinth that is the Microsoft Billing department. Describing how I was eventually able to cancel my Xbox Live account would take way too long, so let me just focus on one part of the experience that is indicative of a company stuck in late 90s Information Architecture.

In order to get to my payment options for Xbox, I have to follow this sequence:

  1. Go to www.xbox.xom
  2. Click on “Marketplace” at the top (this automatically shows the “Xbox LIVE” link in the second tier navigation as selected)
  3. Hover over “My account”
  4. Click on “Manage payment options”

Here is the screen with the major areas called out:

There are a variety of issues with this navigation structure, including:

  • No connection (visual or otherwise) between the three navigation tiers. There are non-navigation elements between the tiers, so there’s no way to know how they are related.
  • No visual hierarchy.  What is the main navigation on the page, and what is sub-navigation?
  • Inconsistent “selected” link states.  The top tier doesn’t even show you what’s selected.  The middle tier uses black links that turn white.  And the third tier uses the tab metaphor.

The thing is that fixing this navigation isn’t that difficult.  It will take some time, but it requires a simple user-centered design strategy similar to what you would use to design any IA:

  1. Compile a site map of all the links and page names.
  2. Get a content strategist to write/edit link names so that they are understandable to users, and in line with the brand voice.
  3. Do a card sorting study to understand how users would group the site’s content and links together (adjust link names as necessary).
  4. Get a UX designer/engineering pair-up to design a single 3-tiered navigation structure.

I don’t understand why Microsoft can’t do this.  But there is simply no excuse for it.  It’s not like there aren’t plenty of resources and design guidelines for site navigation.  Here are just a few: