An intuitive, well-designed web site navigation scheme enables users to access the entire contents of a web site within three clicks. Poorly designed web navigation systems are cumbersome and create situations where you literally become lost in cyberspace. In some instances, once you find the page you are looking for, it becomes impossible to find again, prompting you to bookmark it, so you don’t have to go through the pain of another search.
Web navigation goes hand-in-hand with structuring (information architecture) the information you place on the site. A well-designed navigation scheme contains the following characteristics:
- is easily learned, by placing all navigation in standard locations on the page with a look that makes the menu options obvious
- remains consistent, each page contains a navigation bar or menu placed in the same location of each page
- provides feedback, when Contact Us is selected from the navigation, the browser directs you to a page titled Contact Us
- appears in context, show sidebar navigation menus that link to related content
- offers alternatives, such as adding search capabilities, bread crumbs, or icons that link to content
- provides clear, understandable labels like Home, Contact, or Services or other names that foster a single notion of where that user will be directed
- is appropriate for the purpose of the site, avoid multi-level menu systems (especially for mobile devices) when a single level menu with relevant sidebar navigation will suffice
- supports the user’s goals, get the user to the content with as few clicks as possible
A well-designed navigation menu takes time. Developing a navigation system that is easy to learn, obvious, and transparent in design is an effort well worth the time. Your users will appreciate the decrease in their cognitive load to figure out your navigation and so will you when you search your own content. Information architecture on even the smallest sites greatly improves usability.