Here’s how to make the foundation of your digital experience run smoothly so you can help more users get to where they need to go.
1. Keep Navigation Consistent
Having the navigation bar (the element that contains all the links to various areas of your website) stay in the same location from page to page helps your users through the first principle of consistency. By being in a fixed location, it makes the current page’s content easier to understand; it provides context, no matter what hierarchical layer the user drills into.
While it may seem common sense to have your navigation fixed in a predictable location, with consistent behavior, lacking such a basic behavior can be disorienting for a user, especially in a site with an abundance of content and page levels.
Keep in mind that your website’s navigation is not a place for surprises. Think of it as a functional road map: it should be clear, succinct and easily discoverable to quickly give your user a sense of where they can go to achieve a task.
2. Use High Contrast
Make sure your navigation is visually distinct from the rest of the page’s content. Ideally, whether through color, shape or size, the navigation bar should be not only consistent from page to page but also high contrast so it stands out at a glance. This is an especially important point from an accessibility perspective, as someone who has low vision or is visually impaired will depend heavily on a clear, predictable navigation pattern that is standard throughout your website.
Avoid hiding a page’s navigation bar if possible. A recent trend to have fixed navigation helps to surface ways to traverse through a website no matter how far down a page a user may scroll. For more complex, content dense sites, a breadcrumb near a navigation bar can complement the page to give even more context and help the user trace back where they were previously with just one click.
3. Allow for Flexibility
Great website navigation allows users to have more than one way to find things. For example, in many consumer facing/retail websites, search and navigation are integrated for a more powerful experience. Not only can you do a general search, but you can navigate into a scoped category before adding your search parameter (or vice versa).
Surfacing content with alternative methods such as “top stories” or “recent stories” carousels allows yet another way to navigate to content that users may find more interesting.
The goal of a flexible website navigation system is to support the key tasks well for a variety of users.
For maximizing the efficiency of the design for your next website navigation, keep in mind the principles of consistency, high contrast and flexibility.