Friday, August 11, 2006

Navigation: Less is more

A List Apart has an attempt at explaining to designers the basics for Web site navigation:

Navigation also has three parts, which are used to communicate to the user about their past, present, and future. Any good global navigation scheme should, at a glance, answer the top three questions every user has at the back of their mind on any page:

1. Where am I? (Present)
2. Where can I go? (Future)
3. Where have I been? (Past)

Here‘s a test: Go to any random page on the internet. A deep page, not a home page. Then see if you can answer all three of those questions without looking at the URL or mousing over links to see where they go. See if you can tell your present, future, and past purely through visuals. Even in our brave new Web 2.0 world, most sites fail.

Here‘s the rub, most people today can answer those three questions without any navigation. Here are the answers…

1) Where am I? You are on the page that you read about on Google (or some other search engine) and decided to visit.

2) Where can I go? Most the time you don't care. You are where you wanted to be and your next action is to press one button and that is

3) Where have I been? You know this too, and if you get confused your browser has stored that information for you.

Those are not the questions the Web designers are asking. What they are really asking is:

1) Where do we want our visitors to land? We all know how this is done and it has nothing to do with navigation.

2) Once we get them, where do we want them to to go? How do we optimize our advertising revenues, readership, sales? How long can we keep our visitors around?

3) How did they get to us? If we know how they got to us maybe we can use that information to increase our traffic. See Search Engine Optimization.

The one thing they had right is that people will be landing on a deep page. A page that almost never receives any design attention. Which is just fine. We don‘t need or want their navigation. So please, stop gaming us and give us less.

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