(Part 2 of Until We Run Out of Things to Say mini-series)
We’ve heard it a million times: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It’s been said, re-said, and said again just for good measure (pun intended). Yet this basic principle continues to challenge as technology, design trends, and people evolve.
In one of Bill Keane’s simpler Family Circus strips, that ‘ol “Where am I?” pitfall as it applies to the user experience is so clear that it warrants a brief rant.
Clear navigation is a make-or-break aspect of a site’s user experience. Think of it as their yellow brick road. This path also sets the tempo for when and how much information is to be given along the way.
Navigation that is frustrating or confusing will lead to annoyed users, high bounce rates and unfinished user flows. As with everything in UX, what you are saying and who you are saying it to ultimately determines how your design gets the job done.
At OBEN, we like to think of the experience as a conversation between two people. Ideally, each contributes at the right time before walking away with the feeling of “I’d like to hang out with that person again.”
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how to make your navigation experience really deliver.
Know what you want to say. Great navigation starts with having a very clear information architecture (IA) in place. IA is the way that the site information is structured. Part of great IA is about sorting content types into buckets that match the user’s idea of how the site should work.
Keep it Simple
The more complex the navigation, the harder it will be for users to find what they need. Everything does not need to be in your top-level navigation. Rather, link out to relevant information within the context of the “conversation.” Navigation that goes many levels deep starts to become unusable.
Where am I?
There’s a reason that road signs are clear, high, and always visible. No one likes missing a turn or exit. Website navigation elements should follow the same principle, having enough of a style contrast to differentiate them from the rest of the page. Provide as many cues to users as possible regarding where they are, where they are going and how to get back. Page headings, bread crumbs, and fixed navigation bars may all be used and can help keep users oriented.
To Hamburger Or Not To Hamburger
As central design languages (such as Google’s Material Design) become more prevalent, the hamburger has become a common means of denoting a menu or navigation. However, again, users rule all. Know your audience. Test and test again. There may be a very clear difference in the performance of your navigation where the simple word MENU was used instead.
This brings us to a final parting thought. Your navigation has one purpose: Get people where they want to go. Navigation is not the place to make a statement or reinvent the wheel. Identify what your users want and give them the easiest way to get there.
Try it. Sit back, pour yourself a whiskey, and watch your navigation sing.
As always, thank you, Billy. And thank you, Mr. Keane, for your timeless wisdom.