Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making a Web site's Navigation Bar - Concepts to Keep in Mind

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I just got out of a meeting and the big discussion was the new navigation bar for a new site. I gave my usual spiel about usability, proper design elements, audience, blah, blah, blah. However that didn't win over anyone in the room. As I discussed in my 'The First Rule of Web Design – Build a Thick Skin' http://geekyclown.com/?p=117 proper design doesn't have quite the bells and whistles that new clients are always looking for and as designers we have to try to save them from themselves.

They wanted multi-functioning navigation that when drawn out ended up being not only confusing but a giant cluster of irrelevant and repetitive elements. I had to once again direct them that they need to really put thought into how the navigation is going to work. Here were some key elements that I conveyed:

- Usability. You don't want to make users relearn how to use the Internet just to use your Web site. JavaScript, XHMTL, CSS, Spry, Flash, RIA, and a host of other products all give the ability to make rich navigation bars that can be useful for some Web sites but definitely not all. Users are used to the way the Web works. If your site goes against their thinking, they are going to leave before they even have had a chance to observe any of your content.

- Audience. For perfect example, this Web site's audience is going to be more tech savvy than say a site dealing selling doilies (not saying tech people can't be into doilies). It is just the nature of the product. This being a tech blog is going to pull in techy people. If you are dealing with a situation where you feel that your audience is going to be on the higher cusp of technical knowhow, you can get away with making a more complex and complicated navigation bar.

- Simple is key. As Henry David Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." This holds true in Web design. Just because you have the ability to make a complicated and complex means of navigation doesn't make it proper. Make your navigation simple and hierarchical. Start simple and expand.

- The three-click rule. Starting simple and expanding is important but the three-click rule should also be in place. This is a shaky and unofficial, yet competent, idea that a user should be able to get to any place in a Web site within three clicks. If it is more complicated than that, you will lose the user.

- Planning. Since your goal is to keep it simple and have the end result (Web page) be found within three-clicks, you must plan out how you want the user to be able to get to the end result. Here is where coming up with the core design concept and then sitting down with the client will come into play.

Also see: The First Rule of Web Design – Build a Thick Skin http://geekyclown.com/?p=117

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