As people “browse” the Web, they “land” on a page and “navigate” on a website. To find their way around they need a “navigation” system. Navigation is as important for web design as for a real life drive: when you drive on a new road you want to see clear marked destinations, exits and parking lots. You want to know where you are and where you go. So do your visitors. Fail to provide a clear road map and they will go back to where they came from. Navigation should be clear and simple. Or better: standard. That means: don’t go around renaming buttons. Use “home” for your index; not “back to base”. Although this “back to base” is rather clear, not all the web users are in the mood for riddles, nor do they have the time to start learning your rules, your style, or your symbols.
There are three major types of navigation: global, local and hierarchical.
Web designers use global navigation for medium-sized and small websites to categorize the main points of interest. Hierarchical navigation refers to large websites – such as web directories, article directories, news portals and so on. This approach is somehow confusing for web novices: they cannot really find their way, especially when the navigational structure is not clear (some web designers omit important navigational elements such as “you are here”, “back”, “next page” etc. )
One important note about local navigation: it works great when you need cross traffic. You could use embedded links to lead your visitors to information that is somewhere else on your website or on a different website. But if you need to link to another website use a target=”_blank” approach that will open the link in a new window. That’s how the visitors will not lose the path back to your website.
Many times web designers use a mix of the three navigational styles, depending on the size of a website, its categories and the importance of these categories. As a rule all sites have a global navigation principle: the navigation bar. Standard placements of the navigation bar are on the top or along the left side of the screen. Some designers place the nav bar on the right side – but users are not really familiar with this approach. The worse practice is promoted by flash designers who ignore web usability standards and make the visitors “guess” where the links are.
No matter where you want to place the nav bar, remember: keep it simple. Take a look at the websites of big corporations. For example Philips placed the nav bar at the top to define the main categories and uses a java script to help users navigate to particular points of interest. On secondary pages Philips is using a left navigation bar. All in one, the web designers that created the website for Philips used all three major types of navigation, but the design respects one radical principle: “Sense and simplicity”. That’s right: Philips’ slogan applies perfectly as a fundamental rule when it comes to web design.
Scott Lindsay is a web developer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of HighPowerSites and many other web projects. HighPowerSites is the easiest do-it-yourself website builder on the web. No programming or design skill required. Get your own website online in just 5 minutes with HighPowerSites.com at: http://www.highpowersites.com