The Return of Mystery Meat Navigation

Many of Malta’s government services can nowadays be accessed online. However, we still lag behind other countries in terms of their usefulness and ease of use. In this article, we’ll see a small example from the website of the Malta Public Registry that throws usability out of the window. As with other articles in The Sorry State of the Web series, and inspired by Vincent Flanders’ Web Pages That Suck, the aim is to learn good web design by looking at bad web design.

A screenshot of, the website of the Malta Public Registry. is the website of the Malta Public Registry. I came across it a few days ago, and it has a simple and modern design, similar to many other contemporary websites. However, it makes one fundamental mistake that I haven’t seen in years, and you can see it in the navigation icons in the top-right corner of the website:

The icons in Certifikati’s navigation. Can you guess what they mean?

We have a row of icons, but what do they mean? We can perhaps try to guess, as some are more conventional than others (e.g. the shopping basket). But, to get a real idea of the range of information and services that a website offers, the only way is to hover over the icons one by one:

Hovering over an icon containing a sign post reveals that it means “Certificate Information”.

Aside from the questionable suitability of some of the icons, this kind of design is a tedious exercise in frustration, because instead of a website telling you clearly what it can do for you and where to find the information you want, you have to go and dig it up yourself, one icon at a time.

In fact, there is a name for this. It’s called Mystery Meat Navigation, a term coined by Vincent Flanders (of Web Pages That Suck) back in 1998. You can read about it in Flanders’ Introduction to Mystery Meat Navigation, Wikipedia’s Mystery Meat Navigation page, or my “On Mystery Meat Navigation and Unusability” article (originally published in 2013 at Programmer’s Ranch, and republished two years later here at Gigi Labs).

This is the first instance of Mystery Meat Navigation I’ve seen in many years. Although it used to be very common in the era of Geocities and Flash websites, the change in trend towards more minimal designs and ready-made templates over the course of 25 years thankfully seems to have caused it to fizzle out. As a result, I was very surprised to come across this clear example of regression.

It seems like most people have forgotten about the trap of Mystery Meat Navigation, and by writing about it again, I hope to raise awareness and help people avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

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