Designing Navigation Systems
As our fairy tales suggest, getting lost is often a bad thing. It is associated with confusion, frustration, anger, and fear. In response to this danger, we have developed navigation tools to prevent people from getting lost. From bread crumbs to compass and astrolabe to maps, street signs, and global positioning systems, people have demonstrated great ingenuity in the design and use of navigation tools.
We use them to chart our course, to determine our position, and to find our way back. They provide a sense of context and comfort as we explore new places. Anyone who has driven through an unfamiliar city as darkness falls understands the importance that navigation tools play in our lives.
On the Web, navigation is rarely a life or death issue. However, getting lost in a large web site can be confusing and frustrating. While a well-designed hierarchical organization scheme will reduce the likelihood that users will become lost, a complementary navigation system is often needed to provide context and to allow for greater flexibility of movement within the site.
Navigation systems can be designed to support associative learning by featuring resources that are related to the content currently being displayed. For example, a page that describes a product may include see also links to related products and services (this type of navigation can also support a company's marketing goals). As users move through a well-designed navigation system, they learn about products, services, or topics associated to the specific content they set out to find.
Any page on a web site may have numerous opportunities for interesting see also connections to other areas of the site. The constant challenge in navigation system design is to balance this flexibility of movement with the danger of overwhelming the user with too many options.
Navigation systems are composed of a variety of elements. Some, such as graphical navigation bars and pop-up menus, are implemented on the content-bearing pages themselves. Others, such as tables of contents and site maps, provide remote access to content within the organization structure. While these elements may be implemented on each page, together they make up a navigation system that has important site-wide implications. A well-designed navigation system is a critical factor in determining the success of your web site.