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(I was going to post an image but I don't have enough reputation, so here's the link of the website: http://www.galco.com/)

I'm redesigning a website and one thing the CEO of the company liked was the fact that the previous designer made a search feature that displayed every brand or product (there are a LOT of brands and products) by the first letter of the alphabet simply by hovering over the first letter of the name. Personally, I think the concept is nice, but the fact that the bar is always there seems a bit excessive and takes up quite a bit of space. I brought up the approach that newegg (http://www.newegg.com/ProductSort/BrandList.aspx?Depa=0&name=All-Brands) uses, which is a single button that takes you to another page, but he insisted that the users should have the ability to have this feature everywhere they are on the site and it would reduce the number of SEO keywords on the home page.

Does anyone have a solution to this situation? Either a nice/clean way to incorporate the alphabet (I can't find any any examples anywhere) or a damn good reason to completely drop it and take the newegg approach?

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On a B2B website where the catalog is huge, this is actually a very practical approach to the problem of so many items. In this case, speed and practicality are much more important for usability than looks (although there's nothing wrong with making it look good!). –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 25 '12 at 21:51
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The basic concept looks to be like a so-called "Mega-dropdown". It's something that has been growing in popularity for a few years now: brilliant when done well, infuriating when done badly.

I've never seen an alphabetical one before, but for a specialist shop where expert customers will come with a number of very specific terms in mind and will want to gauge what range of their specialist needs your site actually serves, it seems to make sense. Don't forget that expert audiences are very different to casual audiences.

Loads of room for improvement in the visuals though... Google about a bit for good examples, galleries and discussions of sites that use mega-dropdowns to see what works and what doesn't. There's a fairly neat intro to mega-dropdowns at the end of this Smashing article that might get you started, and the Gateway example they give is probably relevant to your case:

enter image description here

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Yeah I was actually thinking about doing it kind of like how barnes and nobel does it (barnesandnoble.com) –  Kudla69 Jul 25 '12 at 15:09
    
Great answer! I've not come across that term, but it fits well. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 25 '12 at 21:52
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The "bubbles" definitely have to go! I would tend to agree with you, but at the end of the day, it's his company and what he says goes. One argument you could try would be to tell him that a separate page with all the brands/items could lead the visitor to notice something there that they hadn't realized was related to that company, or impress them with the amount of brands represented by the company.

Failing that, you might try listing the alphabet down the right side; it would act more like a sidebar and wouldn't be so visually intrusive. I'd also consider not having each letter in its own shape, but simply listed in a smallish font size.

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The jelly bean school of design -- a favorite among people who lack taste but somehow landed in the field of design. An erstwhile colleague of mine could never understand my loathing for it. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 25 '12 at 21:46
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