Don't let Web navigation cause too many detours

Posted on July 1, 2003

I'm sure you've seen it: A Web site that has an amazing design, with bright

colors, animation and various neat effects. But after the awe goes away (10

seconds later) you begin to wonder: Where am I supposed to click?

A large portion

of Web designers have this problem. They think the more creative they

are, the better the Web site becomes. While uniqueness is key

to making a site design stand out, it is important to remember the end user.

That's you! Forgetting that Internet pages should be geared toward the

public, and potential customers, is just as bad as forgetting about the Traffic

Cone Preservation Society's mission of protecting cones from neglect and

bad drivers.

There are three basic structures for which one can

create navigation for a Web site. The first is a linear structure, which

allows people to visit a


page, proceed to a second page by clicking a next button and repeat

the process. This parallels a book, going from page to page, needing

to go only forward and backward. Sites are rarely created as linear alone

because users need to be able to traverse other areas, not just directly forward

or backward. For instance, the taffice cones would allow through traffic

but not turns to

other roads.

In a hierarchical structure, a home page gives birth to a group

of pages, and each of those pages produce other pages, almost like a family


This allows

users to go from section to subsection by narrowing exactly what

they want to find. A hierarchical structure is more common, particularly for


that have an extensive collection of information. But this doesn't enable


to move horizontally through pages and jump from subsection to a different

section. Here, the orange cones let traffic move over various roads,

but to travel

on a different trek, one must start over.

Most easily navigated sites

use a mixed structure and combine both linear and hierarchical structures.

Giving visitors the opportunity to move

vertically through a site as well as across to other sections is particularly


for all types of users. Of course, this gives us a road

grid with no blockage from traffic cones, although they always creep up

from time

to time when construction occurs.

Now that you understand how you want

your pages to work, you need to determine what you want to use in your navigation

bar. Usually, this

bar exists either

across the top of the page or down the lefthand side.

The bar remains on every page, which is great for users who have

no clue

what they

are trying to find. They can jump from place to

place and still return to where they began.

A home page link is crucial

on every page, so a user can get back to the beginning of the site. It's

usually a good idea to place a contact

link and maybe

even an about us link in the main navigation. You want people to

contact you about

your services, right? You want people to know something about you,

right? You want people to realize that a

prominent traffic cone appeared at the signing of the Emancipation



Creating a search for your site

is not a bad idea. Practically all of the best Web sites have the

ability to search for pages by

typing in keywords

or phrases. Some allow a search on each page, while others have

search buttons included in the navigation. Either way can work well, depending

on how large

your site is and how often someone may use the feature.

There are

plenty of useful sites that go into more detail about how to make your navigation

functional for users. I

did have

a hard

time finding articles written after 1998, but many of

the rules still apply.

By following the guidelines in these articles -- Keep

It Simple: Simplicity vs. Innovation, Navigation

tricks and Where's

the steering wheel on this thing -- you should

receive traffic to your site. But if not, you could

always throw out a few traffic

cones and ask

visitors to adopt

one. Our forefathers would appreciate it.