It’s fair to say if you’ve used any website, you’ve stepped through a sequence of interactions to find the content you are looking for, whether that is to perform a function or lookup information, as a one-off or frequent task.
Designing a great navigation system for a scalable and future proof business is about more than a main menu in the primary sense. With different entry points and sign posting to relevant calls to action, way-finding is baked into the foundations of your website, enabling people to discover and achieve what they need to do efficiently. Being clear with language and labelling to ensure frictionless user journeys end where our customers expect to end up. Obscure terminology can be misleading and hinder discoverability.
The fact is, navigating a website successfully depends on the clarity of the content organisation and playing on the strengths of your business proposition. It means designing a site map to be strategically exposed so you can more easily see your way to the parts that are important to you.
The web abounds with useful tips around menus and buttons and sidebars and things that help with navigation’s practical design, but while those are best practices and broad stroke ideas, navigation is personal to your demographic. It should be entirely people-focused. What works for one organisation won’t work for another because users will prioritise experiences differently.
What we’re really talking about is coming up with an underlying logic to the decisions behind your site’s navigation. Why are people here and what do they really want? By mapping out these processes online and offline, we can see where important touch-points start to take place, which in turn informs the hypothesis that we test as part of a card sort activity similar user testing exercise. Creating a robust enough logic to inform the depth of information architecture is a process that does require commitment to market research. Navigation as an ethos can’t rely entirely on assumptions about human behaviour. It has to be put into practice. After all, everyone knows that logic and human behaviour don’t always mix perfectly!
Creating effective website navigation is about understanding what your user base is expecting to achieve and where we can provide moments of delight along the way, whether this is considering a better mobile experience, designing finger-friendly tap areas and taking advantage of native gestures. You might also have a requirement to reduce user journeys to 2-3 clicks, or triaging main user groups early on in the process, so that they land in areas unique to their needs.
For example, consider a website that sells construction materials to trade clients as well as to individuals. Both types of user might be interested in the same product—flooring, for instance. But they are subject to different purchasing mindsets, product availability, pricing structure, delivery options, and account memberships. They don’t want to have to wade through each other’s gameplay to get to their destination. Navigation for a site like this might allow users to self-identify as trade or non-trade from any landing page, which would immediately funnel each of them into the correct options.
Another site might be an information repository, such as an academic journal archive. It may service several journals going back decades. Users need to be able to access articles by subject. So the navigation will necessarily rely on a system that directs users to the correct journal by title and or research area. This navigation doesn’t necessarily require users to identify themselves; they’re all researchers. Instead it categorises the journals (Engineering, Archaeology and Biology, perhaps). Within each category, there is greater detail on the journals and articles available. Some articles might be found under more than one category and can be navigated to through both.
In all cases, the secret to successful navigation isn’t really that you’ve crafted the perfect sidebar or managed to make your footer the right size, though design elements are important. It’s that you’ve created a system of logic and kept it consistent throughout the site. This logic, this ethos governs every single user journey so that not only does everyone end up at their destination, but just as critically, they don’t end up somewhere they don’t want to go. No one wants to waste time chasing a piece of information on a website that ought to be easily found in a few clicks, but we’ve all done it!
Want to talk more about improving your site’s navigation? Speak to Amy on 0114 2797779