Get In Touch

Golden Rules of Modern Day Navigation

February 19, 2019 |
Blog, Design, Technology, UX

Users access websites to get access to various kinds of information. Whether they want to learn more about an organization, purchase an item, donate to a cause, or access a resource, they are dependent on the site navigation to find out what they’re looking for. However, navigation on websites is seldom as smooth that it should be in an ideal condition. It somehow manages to lead the user to the information that they’re looking for, and that too after some struggle. That’s why it becomes important for designers to follow some best practices which allow them to create more effective, clearer navigation experiences. Navigation is more important than search on a website. If the words that the users are looking for matches the words in the links, it is more likely that they will click on that link. So what are the rules for designing great navigation? Let’s check it out.

Plan Out for Consistency

Navigational inconsistencies are sometimes a result of content that doesn’t fit properly into various sections of the site, and that’s why it’s listed on its own. Other times, people may need to quickly access something that sits way deep within the website, so the designers add quick links to the navigation. However, there are other solutions that avoid making inconsistent additions to navigation. Subpages and landing pages are one example. But, consistency should be maintained here; either all navigational elements should display their subpage links or none of them.

All primary navigation items should link to landing pages, or at least all should be section headers for secondary navigation links. If only some primary navigation items are links, people will try to click on non-links, they will be confused and get frustrated. The visual design should also clearly indicate whether the primary navigation items are links or are only headers.

Effectively Use Breadcrumbs

Another important aid for navigation is Breadcrumbs that help orient people within a website. This kind of orientation is especially important if people are directed to deeper pages on the site from external sources. But breadcrumbs must accurate to be effective; they can’t miss levels, or misrepresent the hierarchy of pages. For small websites with only two levels, breadcrumbs aren’t necessary, but when they are required, they need to be consistent.

Interactions Must be Clearly Identifiable

When a site visitor is confused about which items are interactive, or what interactions to expect, it creates a problem. Therefore, thoughtfully designing interactions to be clear and understandable is the best way to go about it. Visual changes clarify what interactions to expect on a site. For example, swapping an expand icon for a collapse icon indicates that something has changed, and how to reverse the change. When the icon doesn’t update, people may miss the result.

Differentiate Icon Links

Sometimes icons can replace text links. Including a label with an icon will reduce ambiguity. According to a study, users are roughly 37% faster at finding items within a list on a web page when visual indicators vary both in color and icon compared to text alone. Differentiate icons that are links from icons that are purely informational or categorical. Varying the color of the icons, in addition to the icon design itself will help people to more easily and quickly process that the icons serve different purposes.

Opt for Flat Navigation

In order to create a great navigation, the Information Architecture (IA) and hierarchy of the website must support it. As the sitemap is developed, go for flat navigation, where the user can access the deepest nested page in the site within a few clicks. Menus need to be short enough to scan, but long enough to be clear. Ideally, the fewer levels people need to click through, the quicker and least confusing it should be for them to access what they want. Most often, there are three or four levels of hierarchy for most websites. This keeps things accessible while making sure the site navigation isn’t too broad.

Design for Responsive Compatibility

Great navigation translates easily to mobile and tablet. Design a navigation that works across all devices, or consider two similar navigations that don’t require people to adjust to a different mental model when moving from desktop to mobile. Primary navigation often displays the secondary links on hover; however, it doesn’t always work for mobile. Utilizing a hover interaction that can’t be used on mobile introduces inconsistency between the two devices.

People will not know instinctively how to access something on mobile that they used a menu hover to access on a desktop. If you need to provide two interactions in association with one link, consider having two distinct places to click associated with that link. While it may seem like extra effort to design and develop separate designs for the devices.

Ease of navigation adds to the user experience of visitors. Discuss more with our design experts and get answers to your design needs.

Get in Touch