The web is evolving at an incredible rate. Since those early days of HTML code in the 90s, we’ve come a long way. With HTML and CSS now going hand in hand, and new technologies like HTML5 just on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to double-check that your website is completely optimised for usability. For a long time, companies and online publishers were happy enough to simply have a web presence, and to be able to give their customers or readers a place to find out more.
Today, however, the internet is a very different place. From golf shoe stores to online marketing companies, the web is packed with sites. And social media now drives a lot of traffic on the web, meaning that quality content (and design) can spread rapidly. Unfortunately, this also means that the opposite is true: bad design and poor content can be ‘called out’ with relative ease. Thankfully there are ways to make your website user experience seamless with very little effort – starting by ensuring you have simple, clear, and intuitive navigation in place.
Why is navigation so vital?
You wouldn’t head out on a road trip without a map or a sat nav system, because you’d get lost and probably turn back the way you came. Exactly the same logic applies to web design. Navigation is one of the core elements to any website. You could have the best looking site in the world with as many bells and whistles as possible, but if your visitors can’t find their way around it, its success may be limited. By having navigation that is not only easy to understand, but also placed correctly and naturally, you’ll be helping your users to enjoy your site in the best way possible.
Examples of good navigation
There are many websites out there that have great navigation implemented; however do remember that the size of the website needs to be taken into account. A highly specific site that does one ‘main’ job – one for a certain product or service, for example – will have fewer requirements in terms of navigation. For example, if the site has a maximum of ten pages, the navigation menu will need roughly that number of options – or even fewer. A larger site, such as a department store like Amazon, will need a much more complex level of navigation with more ‘levels’. The first thing to do before you start to analyze your own navigation is to assess the size of your site, and therefore how complex your new navigation will need to be. This analysis will serve you well during the redesign process, and can be very handy when it comes to troubleshooting end-user issues.
Keep it simple
To be doubly sure that your navigation is as clean and simple as possible, always keep your user in mind during the design process. Test constantly, even when you’re still scribbling ideas on paper. Think to yourself: ‘how would a user find this section?’ or ‘Where would the user want to go from here?’. With these questions in mind, you’ll be far better armed to create a form of navigation that’s effortless and effective at the same time. Another key concern that designers often overlook is placement of the navigation menu. For sites such as Amazon, left-hand navigation works well because it allows ‘pop-out’ layers to fill the screen as necessary. For smaller sites, such as those for businesses or services, a top menu with the option for drop-down sub-menus is often the best choice.
It’s all about user experience
User experience (or UE, or UX, or whatever name you’d like to give it) is becoming one of those ‘hot button’ topics. The reason is simple: the web has evolved to a stage whereby the technical details are now secondary and the visual design has taken over. We no longer need to rely on technical wizadry (or at least, not so much), and can instead focus on how users interact with designs. As a web designer, it’s vital to respond to these changing industry conditions and to create websites that are as easy-to-use as they are visually striking.