to ensure that your web site navigation is simple and intuitive
How to ensure that your web site navigation is simple and intuitive
Thinking of a web site as an architectural design is actually
a good analogy. It must have a structure expressed as continuity
in the layout scheme. It must be functional in the value of the
things that it offers the visitor.
It should be pleasing in the form of its design and detail. And
it should be easy for a first time visitor to find their way around.
When finished, your web site can be comparable to a skid row warehouse
or to an architectural jewel such as "Falling Water" by
Frank Lloyd Wright.
In a previous article I discussed how quickly a web page should
load. The easy aspect about writing an article on load speed is
that the objective is generally obvious, to load your pages as fast
as possible. Discussing navigation is more subjective. The motherhood
and apple pie objective is easy, "make your site navigation
simple and intuitive". What does that really mean? One person's
intuitive navigation is another person's spaghetti network.
No matter how good an artist you are, designing a navigation scheme
is not an artistic endeavor. It should be cold, functional and so
simple and intuitive that your visitors never realize that it is
an integral component of your web site. In fact, a good website
navigation scheme will probably never elicit a compliment from a
visitor. ("Hey, I just visited your web site, the navigation
was great"). A bad scheme will. ("I tried visiting your
site but I could not find anything so I left")
You cannot design a decent web site without first designing the
navigation system that your visitors will use to find their way
around. A web site's navigation scheme is the 'human' component
upon which it will work or fail.
I first became involved in computer graphics and animation as a
post-graduate architecture student. I was taught that the first
thing an Architect does when designing a new building is to create
a balloon design. This is a very rough sketch that shows the relationship
between the various functional areas of a building and how people
move and relate to those areas. A web site design should start in
exactly the same way.
Before worrying about the appearance, nifty graphics or promotional
text on your site, you should first consider what the most important
functional areas are that you wish your visitors to experience.
Draw rough balloons on a piece of paper to represent these functions
and then draw lines between them to represent how people are going
to move between them.
Should it be a direct path or do you want them to pass through
another functional area first? Move the balloons around until you
have each main function sensibly positioned with efficient paths
Another University I am familiar with did not put any paths between
the buildings at its new campus when it was first built. Instead
they left grass between them for the first year or two. Then they
built the paths wherever the grass was worn out by foot traffic.
Although you cannot avoid creating links when you create your site,
you should be aware of where your visitors wish to go and ensure
that they can quickly and easily be able to do so. Use a good stats
analysis program to find out. Once you know where your visitors
are going, you can improve your navigation by placing links at appropriate
Graphics can add a lot to a web page but text usually generates
more links. Whenever you write about any topic, product or service
on another web page, include a link within the text. Don't expect
the reader to look for it. If your graphic links are not absolutely
clear, add text so that your visitors don't need to guess where
Once your visitor has figured out your navigation scheme, don't
change it. Repeat the same navigation on each page. Use the same
text in the same color at the same location. As I said before, this
is really not the place to express your artistic skills.
Finally, a visitor will have a hard time knowing where to go if
they don't know where they are. Clearly identify each page in a
fashion that your visitor can quickly locate and identify. This
can be in the form of a large page title or a small tag. The key
is to make it obvious and consistent from page to page.
I am a great believer in artistic expression. The Internet has
provided more people with the opportunity to express their artistic
skills through Web Page design than anything else I can think of
short of designing costumes for a carnival. No matter how elaborate
a carnival costume is, it must still be able to stay on the wearer
(I think). Other aspects of a web page can be as elaborate as you
like but the navigation is the simple component that will make it
About the Author
"IMS Web Tips"
(http://www.imswebtips.com) is a weekly news letter for all web
site managers regardless of experience who are looking for detailed
information on creating, maintaining and promoting their web sites.