Navigation: Things to Consider

Most people manage to get the “nav bar” right to some extent, but I regularly come across sites where it clearly hasn’t been thought through. The function of a sites navigation is to get a user to the content they want, as quickly as possible. This isn’t always easy though, and there are a lot of things to consider when designing a sites navigation.

  • Keep it clear and concise. Unless you’re doing it for a reason, try to keep navigation text unambiguous. If you’re using a style in the wording you choose, keep that consistent too.
  • Make the navigation easy to get to. Don’t make a user scroll and hit a few buttons to get to a page.
  • If you’re using hierarchical navigation, keep the levels to a maximum of three. Two is even better, but if you go beyond three your users will get frustrated very quickly.
  • Provide an easy way to get back to the home page, don’t just link to it from your sites logo.
  • Look at similar websites to the one you are designing and include any common links you identify. If you’re designing a site for a web agency, you wouldn’t want to leave out a portfolio or about us in the main navigation, as users will be looking for it.
  • Icons can help users identify pages they want to get back to quickly, but they can clutter up your navigation if you have too many.
  • If your navigation has animated elements or is hierarchical, provide visual hints of how it will work. For example, a small arrow next to items with a sub menu, pointing in the direction that the menu will appear.
  • Break up your navigation if it’s too crowded, but make sure you use visual elements and contrast to draw the eye to the most important navigation first.
  • Help a user keep track of where they are on the site. A good way to do this is by styling the navigation item of the page or section they are currently at differently.
  • If you’re designing a content heavy site, consider adding another level of navigation that is local to that page, like a list of links to similar pages.

If you keep these things in mind when you next design some navigation, your users will be able to find what they what, and that means they won’t go somewhere else to find it.

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