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Web Site Navigation

Thinking of a web site as an architectural design is actually a good
analogy. It must have a structure expressed as continuity in the
layout scheme. It must be functional in the value of the things that it
offers the visitor. It should be pleasing in the form of its design and
detail. And it should be easy for a first time visitor to find their way
around. When finished, your web site can be comparable to a skid
row warehouse or to an architectural jewel such as "Falling Water"
by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Last time my design topic was Load Speed. The easy aspect about
writing an article on load speed is that the objective is generally
obvious, to load your pages as fast as possible. Discussing navigation
is more subjective. The motherhood and apple pie objective is easy,
"make your site navigation simple and intuitive". What does that
really mean? One person's intuitive navigation is another persons
spaghetti network.

No matter how good an artist you are, designing a navigation
scheme is not an artistic endeavor. It should be cold, functional and
so simple and intuitive that your visitors never realize that it is an
integral component of your web site. In fact, a good website
navigation scheme will probably never elicit a compliment from a
visitor. ("Hey, I just visited your web site, the navigation was
great"). A bad scheme will. ("I tried visiting your site but I could not
find anything so I left")

You can not design a decent web site without first designing the
navigation system that visitors will us to find their way around. A
web site's navigation scheme is the 'human' component upon which
it will work or fail.

I first became involved in computer graphics and animation as a
post graduate architecture student. I was taught that the first thing
an Architect does when designing a new building is to create a
balloon design. This is a very rough sketch that shows the
relationship between the various functional areas of a building and
how people move and relate to those areas. A web site designed
should start in exactly the same way.

Before worrying about the appearance, nifty graphics or promotional
text on your site, you should first consider what the most important
functional areas are that you wish your visitors to experience. Draw
rough balloons on a piece of paper to represent these functions and
then draw lines between them to represent how people are going to
move between them. Should it be a direct path or do you want them
to pass through another functional area first? Move the balloons
around until you have each main function sensibly positioned with
efficient paths between them.

Another University I am familiar with did not put any paths between
the buildings at its new campus when it was first built. Instead they
left grass between them for the first year or two. Then they built
the paths wherever the grass was worn out by foot traffic.
Although you can not avoid creating links when you create your site,
you should be aware of where your visitors wish to go and ensure
that they can quickly and easily be able to do so. Use a good stats
analysis program to find out. If you don't know what a stats analysis
program is, check our article at

http://www.imswebtips.com/issue8top2.htm . Once you know where
your visitors are going, you can improve your navigation by placing
links at appropriate places.

Graphics can add a lot to a web page but text usually generates more
links. Whenever you write about any topic, product or service on
another web page, include a link within the text. Don't expect the
reader to look for it. If your graphic links are not absolutely clear,
add text so that your visitors don't need to guess where they go.

Once your visitor has figured out your navigation scheme, don't
change it. Repeat the same navigation on each page. Use the same
text in the same color at the same location. As I said before, this is
really not the place to express your artistic skills.

Finally, a visitor will have a hard time knowing where to go if they
don't know where they are. Clearly identify each page in a fashion
that your visitor can quickly locate and identify. This can be in the
form of a large page title or a small tag. The key is to make it
obvious and consistent from page to page.

I am a great believer in artistic expression. The Internet has
provided more people with the opportunity to express their artistic
skills through Web Page design than anything else I can think of
short of designing costumes for a carnival. No matter how elaborate
a carnival costume is, it must still be able to stay on the wearer (I
think). Other aspects of a web page can be as elaborate as you like
but the navigation is the simple component that will make it work.

"IMS Web Tips" ISSN 1488-7088
© Copyright 1999 Virtual Mechanics

"IMS Web Tips" is a weekly news letter for all web site managers regardless of experience who are looking for detailed information on
creating, maintaining and promoting their web sites.

To subscribe send an email to tips@imswebtips.com with SUBSCRIBE
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