Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Web navigation - free choice or force?

An interesting article by Gerry McGovern on web navigation.

I must say that I disagree with his position that:

"Forward-looking navigation options should dominate"

Basically this position is based on the premise that a website/intranet is a linear system and that users only use it as a linear system. His example using notebook computers negates the fact that most users don't know if they want an 'ultralight' or a 'multimedia' one or what the differences are. So offering several selections would be the best way to help the user.

Forwards, backwards, sideways does it matter?

Content in a variety of locations of a site can also be linked and that it is logical that users be given the opportunity to navigate to a new page or section without following a specific 'direction'.
I agree that avoiding cluttered websites should be a key goal for all online environments but we need to understand that not all users navigate in the same way and that sometimes going backwards or sideways is just as important as going 'forwards'.

Where am I?

Basic navigation aids as 'where you are' in a site or at least some pointer to it is simple usability necessity and should definitely be part of whatever primary purpose your navigation has.

Let users choose their direction

It is important to think that as online developers or designers we shouldn't need to force users in a direction but provide them the options to support their purposes. Maybe they are just after some information, maybe they want to purchase or perhaps they are just looking around.

All these users would therefore require different options and it is our job to help understand and support them, not to force them.

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