Navigation on the WWW
With the rapid growth of the web and its increasing complexity, being able
to successfully navigate the web is becoming more and more challenging for users.
Successful web designers must take special care to make their site easy to explore
while ensuring that visitors do not get lost or unintentionally leave the site.
Below, I outline several key design elements that can help web designers to
optimize a guests' experience in using their web site.
- Consistent navigational element on every single document: Each document
within a web site should contain a navigational element which is intuitive
and consistent across the site. This could be in the form of a image mapped
banner, footer, or a navigation bar on the side of the document. Preferably,
a server side include should be used to ensure consistency and simplify maintenance.
- Feedback to the user about where they are within the site: Within
the navigational element, there should be some indication to the user about
where they are in the hierarchy of the site. For example, on a banner where
the name of the page is located, one might have an arrow pointing to the name
of the document that the user is looking at.
- Using Anchors & Targets to Facilitate Maneuverability within a document:
Particularly if the web document is long, provide the user with targeted links
to enable them to jump up and down within the page rather than scrolling.
- Site Maps: Giving users the opportunity to go to a map which clearly
outlines where certain information resides within the site is convenient for
the user so they don’t waste time going to parts of the site that they are
not interested in.
- Using Intuitive Names for Links/Effective Icons: It is frustrating
to users to think they are going one place only to end up in another.
Links should have straight forward, simple names which clearly describe where
they will take a user. Similarly, though a picture may be worth 1,000 words,
it becomes useless if no one understands what is being conveyed by the image.
Be sure the image clearly conveys your message. Jakob Nielsen has done some
very interesting studies on both of these subjects, read his paper on icon
- Search should always be an option: Even relatively small sites (30
documents or more) should provide this helpful feature for its users. Allow
them to quickly “cut to the chase” and find the information
- Don't use hyperlinks excessively: Roger Black points out that the
overuse of hypertext links will often lead visitors out of a site prematurely
and should not be used unless they have particular relevance or significance.
(See his other suggestions at "Web
Sites that Work")
Additional suggestions from Jakob
- Include a site identifier on every page to let users know where
they are relative to the Web as a whole. Usually, this takes the form of a
corporate logo in the upper left corner of the screen (upper right if the
site is in a language that reads right-to-left).
- Make it easy to get to landmark pages: every page should be linked
to the home page (typically by making the logo into a link) and to the search
- Emphasize the structure of the information architecture: make every
page show what subsite (or other structural element) it belongs to and include
a link to the overview page or main page for at least one level up in the
structure. Such links should not have generic names like "go one level up"
but should be specific and name the level they point to.
Back to SIMS 290-3:
Web Page Development
By Pamela Prescott (SIMS '99)
This site last updated April 16, 1998