Tips For Effective Navigation Design

Corinne Cain

Corinne Cain

Creation Director at AndiSites Inc.
Corinne is Creation Director at AndiSites. She writes about website administration, project organization, health, and happiness.
Corinne Cain

What is navigation? Well, you could say that it’s the element of your website which allows your customers to find what they’re looking for, or you could say that it’s a way to lead your customers to the most important information on your site. You could also say that it’s both. Either way, designing your website’s navigation is like laying the foundation to your house, says Andy Brattle of Web Designer Depot. If you want the benefit of sales or conversions, it’s Important to spend quite a bit of time planning out how your audience will interact with your content. Improper planning could put you at risk of failure and you could risk alienating a large section of your audience. But there are ways of thinking about and organizing content which minimize the risk of failure. Here are some tips for an effective navigation design:

Planning Your IA

Information Architecture (IA) is the planned overview of your website’s content. IA is what forms the backbone of your website’s usability. Designing your navigation before properly designing your IA is “like creating a book index before typesetting the pages.”

It helps to be able to see your content from a user’s perspective, and sometimes this even means going against your client’s way of categorizing their content. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your client while preparing your scheme:

  • What pages are needed for this site?
  • Does each page have its own purpose within the bigger scheme, and is the content broken up into sensible pieces?
  • What allowances must be made for adding content in the future?
  • What user groups are you working with (e.g. logged in/out, subscription types, advertisers, etc)?
  • What is the primary goal for each type of user?

Simplicity is Key

A navigation area should be kept simple. You don’t want your users to be overwhelmed with choices, or to be bombarded with overcrowded design or text. It will interfere with your website’s overall usability. But this does not mean that your design has to be simple. What may seem simple at first glance can have quite a bit of hidden features that allow for the user to effectively navigate your site without feeling overwhelmed by content. Check out Microsoft’s homepage for a good example.

Choose Orientation Carefully

Consider whether you want a vertical or horizontal menu. A lot of the time, since most computer screens are in landscape format, the horizontal navigation feels more balanced and easy to place from a design perspective. But horizontal menus don’t work in every context. You may see some sites that utilize the vertical menu in order to avoid cluttering the horizontal bar. However, this is not an easy task, especially if you have a lot of products. This vertical navigation from Jack Jones, does a very nice job, however. Whatever your decision, make sure that it works well for your website.

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