Photo courtesy of Tim Green.
Solid navigation is one of the foundations to creating an engaging, “perfect” web site.
There needs to be a set of master navigation buttons that appear in the same spot on every single web page contained within the web site.
This concept is best explained with a picture of what NOT to do. In this first screen shot, you see the home page.
After clicking the home page, the navigation changes completely and adds in new buttons that didn’t exist in the first place! This is a great way to confuse a visitor to your web site.
This is one of the worst things you can do on a web site. Time is precious when a person visits your web site and you do not want to waste it by making the person have to figure out how to find content. If given the choice between form or function, side with function to make sure people can use your web site. In this next screen shot you can see an example of Apple’s web site and how its navigation stays consistent across the top of the site no matter where you go.
Once you have consistent navigation, the next fundamental choice you need to make is how many choices will you give the person to navigate through. Again, people have limited time and energy, so the more choices you give them the more confusing your site will be and the likelihood of that person taking an action that benefits you becomes lower. In design school, the textbook answer was to limit navigation choices to 3 – 5 items. This is illustrated beautifully by an equation called Hick’s Law, which you can learn more about at Smashing Magazine and Wikipedia.
T = b * log2 (n+1)
When you translate the math into plain English, it means that the more navigation choices you give a person, the logarithmically longer it will take for your user to take an action. Basically, not only does it take longer to make a choice, but the effect on time compounds and becomes drastically longer each time you add a choice. The more you can limit choices for your web site visitor the more likely you are to see a positive result. Hick’s Law is the reason why simple advertisements and web sites that focus on one things have been so effective over the last 150 years.