Uncovering current trends in website navigation
When it comes to user experience (UX), site navigation plays a crucial role. The following article looks at the fundamentals of intuitive navigation before exploring some of the latest trends in navigation design.
Choosing the best navigational elements for your type of website will help to optimise user experience and drive the user interactions you are looking for.
One of the fundamental considerations when creating a website navigation structure is ensuring that your viewer sees the same elements no matter which page they are on. If the navigational menu changes too much from page to page, your visitor is likely to feel confused and may leave your website altogether.
All of your key pages should be easy to find from any other page on your website. (The exception to this rule is the 'squeeze page.' If you use squeeze pages in your website these should stand outside of the main navigation of your page).
As well as being in the same place on every page, each element of your navigation menu should behave in the same way. If clicking one heading leads to a new page so should clicking the next; if hovering over one element causes it to change colour or style and bring up a dropdown list, the other elements in that menu should do likewise.
In addition, web users expect certain elements to behave in predictable ways. For example, if text changes colour or style when they hover over it, they will expect to be able to click the text and go somewhere.
Remember that your navigational menu is chiefly a map to help a visitor find their way around your website and not a work of art. Although it is fine to make your menus look appealing, this should never be at the expense of clear, simple text labelling.
Certain words commonly found in menu bars (about, contact, blog, etc.) are deliberately clear and simple. Be cautious when substituting these words because much successful web navigation is achieved through prior recognition.
Breadcrumbs are a common navigational aid which help users to know exactly where they are within your website's structure. As in the Hansel and Gretel story, breadcrumbs provide an easy way for visitors to retrace their steps through a website and can also illustrate the next steps to take (e.g. in an e-commerce store checkout process).
Breadcrumbs come in various styles from text links divided by simple separators (e.g. a slash symbol) to beautifully colour-coordinated arrows. Whatever style you opt for, be sure to use breadcrumbs unless you have a good reason not to.
A user-friendly search facility is a great back-up for when your visitor is unable to find a page on your site. For example, a customer may be looking for a specific product on an e-commerce site or a subscriber might want to track down a certain blog post.
Search icons tend to resemble magnifying glasses and are normally located in the top right corner of a website. Try to ensure your search icon or search bar is near the top of the screen.
Going back to your main navigation bar, there are numerous styles to choose from but some have become particularly popular for certain kinds of sites.
Navigation style: The Carousel
The Carousel navigation style features a revolving menu usually consisting of image thumbnails, titles and brief description text. Carousels are often found in news sites or other websites where content is uploaded regularly.
Navigation style: The Mega Menu
The Mega Menu crops up regularly in magazine-style websites. On dropping down, this menu expands to fill most of the screen and is organised into columns with icons, clickable headings, bullet points and other stylistic touches.
Navigation style: The Hamburger
In contrast to the Mega Menu, the controversial hamburger is a minimalist menu device often used on mobile devices where space is restricted. All menu items are hidden behind a simple icon of three horizontal lines.
Navigation style: Fixed Navigation Bars
Fixed navigation bars have evolved alongside infinitely scrolling news feeds to provide a simple way to switch pages while scrolling through a long list of content updates. Social media sites often make use of this style of navigation. In fact you'll see our own fixed navigation bar on this site. We went for clear, bold and simple and nobody has complained yet!
The above provides just a taste of all the different navigation options available to website owners. If you are looking to redesign your website, please contact Eyes Down to find out how we can help you to optimise user experience and get your website archiving your desired outcomes.