The second decade of web is ending in a couple of years so it seems strange that we are still talking about something as basic as Navigation. But the truth is that we all still make some mistakes while making one, at least I do, so here is a refresher course for any designer who has been working in the web industry for years.

Navigation is not just a set of links to different pages of your website, it is a complete story. And like any other good story it should have a beginning, middle and an end. A good navigation will answer three basic yet most important questions of a user that has come to your website

  1. His present, Where he is ?
  2. His future, Where can he go ?
  3. His past, Where has he been ?

So you can test the quality of any navigation by these simple questions, go to an inner page of any website over the web and see if you can find the answers of these questions, most of the websites will fail the test.

What makes Navigation that Important?

Studies shows that most of the visitors to a website judge it by its navigation. If your website is about selling things or you want the visitor to return to the website then the biggest factor will be the trust. If your navigation is visually appealing and easy to navigate then most of the user will take your website as trustworthy.

One should understand the fact that it is not easy for a consumer to give his or her credit card information to a website that does not appear to be trustworthy. Even if you are not selling anything, trustworthiness will make the user think about bookmarking your website and returning to it.

From the good old header menu to side bar menus, footer menus and many more, you will see that there are a variety of ways to present your navigation options but no matter how good looking your navigation is if it is not following these simple rules then the chances are that the users will lose interest in your website.

Don’t Link to the Page You’re On

When a user click on a link he expects that it will take him to a new place, if it does not happen then it will be a bad experience. Still most of the websites have the link to homepage even on the homepage itself. Such a link will not achieve anything else other than confusing the user and filling him with doubt and uncertainty.

There is an exception to this rule thou and that is the anchor links. They don’t take the user to a different page but just to a different part of the page on which they are already on. But they can still be confusing to the visitor so should only be used when they are really required. What adds to the confusion is the fact that all the links whether if they are anchor or not looks the same. A good technique will to make them appear differently which is easily achievable through CSS.

Always Show Where You Are

The reason why a navigation is put in websites is to help the visitors not to get lost, so always give your user a big “You Are Here” clue.  The websites that forget this simple rule lose a lot of visitors because of the panic that comes with that “Am I Lost” feeling.

You can achieve this by simply making the link of the page you are on inactive in the navigation and highlight it so that your user knows where he or she is. And then when the user goes to a content page within that section the main navigation element should go back to being a link as now it has a utility. But now it should not look exactly like it did on the home page because now you are in this section.

Design it for Your User

Navigation is there for your user and it is your way of telling the story of your website to him. Always put those links in there which you think are necessary for him or her to fully understand and use your website.

There are plenty of questions you need to answer before you complete a navigation. Should you put the link to the homepage in the main navigation? Should it have the drop downs? How many links should be in your navigation? Should you use Tabs? And the answer to each one of them is that it depends on your targeted visitors. Design your Navigation according to the needs of your users not according to your own likes and dislikes.

Conclusion

Navigation often don’t get the attention that it deserves, it is the uncelebrated workhorse of your website. Think of the visitors to your website as tourists in a foreign city, and your navigation is the only travel guide they have. If you want them to enjoy their stay on your website then make it easy for them to get to where they want and let them know where they are.

If you do this then these visitors may come back to visit your website again. But if you don’t provide them with a good guide and they get confused and lost, then don’t expect them to return to your website.

Here are a few fresh and inspiring examples of Navigation for you.

Emporio Urbano

Agence Crac

B&O Play

bleu de chauffe

Leading Art

life in my shoes

Olé Chef

Sir John a Day

United Pixelworkers

Wanda Productions