3. Navigation Systems
Chapters 7 and 8 of Morville & Rosenfeld (2007) and Chapter 6 of Krug (2005) discuss navigation systems. According to Morville (2007) navigation tools "prevent us from getting lost and to help us find our way" back to where we want to be. When users enter a website they decide first between searching or browsing. If one can't easily find what they're looking for they'll leave the site.
Navigation systems can be divided into the following subsystems:
- Embedded navigation systems (should be implemented together):
- Global (or persistent navigation) - a link/label that is present throughout every page on the website
- Local (or subsites, or secondary navigation) - allow users to navigate the immediate area
- Contextual (or utilities) - links that are explicit to one page, document, or object
- Sitemaps - comparable to a book's table of contents
- Indexes - shows keywords or phrases alphabetically
- Guides - guide the user through navigation, they include guided tours, tutorials, micro-portals, wizards, and configurators
- Search - allows users to look for information themselves using keywords or phrases
Designing Navigation Systems
When designing navigation systems it is important to provide a landmark that shows the users' current location. This provides context for the users, which is important because 'contextual clues in the physical world do not exist on the Web." (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2007) As Krug (2005) puts it we do not have the same sense of scale, direction, or location on the Web. In order to make sure users know where they are, Morville (2007) advises to "include the organization's name, logo, and graphic identity through all pages of the site," and "present the structure of the information hierarchy in a clear and consistent manner." Navigation should bypass the hierarchical organization of the website, and "hypertext [should] support lateral and vertical navigation." (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2007) This will provide the users with context and flexibility.
There are certain navigation design crimes that should not be committed:
- "Cluelessly modifying the visited/unvisited link colors
- Killing the Back button
- Crippling the Bookmark feature" (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2007)
Important aspects to consider when designing embedded navigation systems include:
- Whether to use textual or graphic navigation menus
- Where the main navigation menu should be placed
- Whether to use textual or iconic labels
Other elements of navigation systems that should be taken into consideration after embedded and supplemental navigation have been mastered are:
- Personalization - guessing what the user wants
- Customization - telling the user what they want
- Visualization - using visuals to navigate, such as metaphor (like tabs)
- Social Navigation - navigation based on user recommendations or actions
Breadcrumbs are a secondary navigation aid that "show[s] you the path from the homepage to where you are." (Krug, 2005) Breadcrumbs should not be the only type of navigation used, and should be easily visible to users at the top of the page. Because breadcrumbs take up very little room, show users their current location and history, and are popular, they are recommended for use within a larger navigation system.
According to Krug (2005), because of the number of people who prefer searching to browsing, "every page should have either a search box or a link to a search page." It is important to use the word "Search" next to the search bar and to plainly spell out the scope of the search.
Both Morville & Rosenfeld and Krug suggest testing a site's navigation. Although both have different methods for testing navigation usability, both come to the same conclusion that users should instantly know where they are and be able to return to wherever they'd like.
The Good - Lulu
The Lulu homepage makes use of the tab navigation system that Krug (2005) so enthusiastically praises. This type of navigation is effective because it allows the user to visualize which subpage they are visiting while still being able to see the navigation links to the other subpages. Lulu's navigation system is again repeated at the bottom of each page where the local links can also be found under each subpage label. Lulu also makes good use of the search function, located at the top of the page. Their search allows users to quickly find for what they need using a drop down menu to provide more context as to what they are searching for. I have found that this website could use navigation menu buttons on the Publishing subpage that are more consistent to the other subpages.
The Bad - Chicken, Alaska
The homepage of the Chicken, Alaska website provides users with navigation to six subpages. While the FAQ and History subpages provides users with a few navigation options (after scrolling to the bottom of the pages) the rest of the site's subpages have no such options. One must go back to the homepage in order to navigate to any of the other subpages. The Contact subpage does not even have the option to return to the homepage, forcing users to use the back button on their browser. Within the navigation system on the bottom of the FAQ and History subpages there are links to other subpages, such as Chicken University, which are not present on the homepage and cannot be found unless visiting these particular subpages. Subpages on this website are also difficult to follow because some subpages are not labeled at all, layouts and navigation systems are different from page to page, and there is no consistent logo or label on each, leaving users confused as to where they are within the website. While the website is not large enough to warrant a search, it could use a sitemap so that users could more easily access all of the subpages.
- Chicken, Alaska. Retrieved from http://www.chickenalaska.com
- Krug, S. (2005). Don't make me think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders Press.
- Lulu. Retrieved from http://www.lulu.com/
- Morville, P. & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (3rd ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media.
- Nielsen, J. (2007). Breadcrumb Navigation Increasingly Useful. Retrieved from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/breadcrumbs.html