Mystery meat navigation

What is it?

Mystery meat navigation (MMN) is a term coined in 1998 by author and web designer, Vincent Flanders, to “describe a visually attractive but concurrently inefficient or confusing user interface. Such interfaces lack a user-centred design, emphasising aesthetic appearance, white space and the concealment of relevant information over basic functionality. The epithet ‘mystery meat’ refers to the meat products often served in American public school cafeterias whose forms have been so thoroughly reprocessed that their exact types can no longer be identified. Like them, the methods of MMN are clear to the producer but baffling to the consumer.”

On his articulately-named website, Web Pages That Suck, Flanders dedicates extensive time and energy exploring the use of MMN in website design, paying particular attention to the architectural industry (here): “for an industry that depends on accuracy and stability, they seem wildly inaccurate and unstable. When it comes to their websites, architects seem to be one floor short of a complete building. They all need to be redesigned.”

What do we think?

Without doubt, the architects’ sites Flanders uses as evidence of the above claims are truly awful. At the risk of giving offence, Tamborra Design may have the most horrible website we have ever seen, a fitting claim given their equally horrible architectural works.

That said, in equating the use of MMN to shoddy architectural design, we believe Flanders has gravely misunderstood the role of architects and our general worldview. We are not in the business of signposting our buildings so they are immediately and easily legible. Indeed, if we have done our job properly, our buildings will tell users where to enter, how to navigate through and where to exit them without the lazy utilisation of signage.

As with good architecture, good website design does not need to spell out every navigational instruction. Rather, it should rely on the basic intuition and common sense every individual develops from a lifetime of using computers and browsing the internet. If there is no “Enter Here” blinking on and off, perhaps try clicking on the big photo in the centre of the page.

Finally, with respect Mr. Flanders, please explain why you have not bothered to ensure your website is immune from the very design defects you criticise? Your website is unattractive, difficult to navigate, burdened with annoyingly-located advertising and verbose. We suggest you consider the sturdiness of your glass house before you throw stones.

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