Many people instinctively see the Web as a single medium. This makes it important to follow Web conventions when designing your site.
People acquire navigation skills on one Web site, and they'd like to carry over those skills to other sites; it makes life easier for them. In this sense, the more similar your Web site's navigation is to that of other Web sites, the easier it is for readers to get around your site.
Follow the Leader
Over time, a number of navigation conventions have emerged. The designer who deliberately avoids these conventions just to be different achieves nothing other than confusing the reader. And that's the last thing your navigation design should do.
There is an old saying in art, "Geniuses steal; beggars borrow." That approach has tremendous relevance to navigation design.
Go to the biggest and best Web sites. See how they design their navigation and unashamedly copy from one another. Remember, conventional navigation design makes the reader more comfortable and, thus, more likely to purchase or carry out some other positive action on a site.
Web Navigation and Classification Conventions
The following is a selection of navigation and classification conventions that have emerged on the Web. I highly recommend that you follow them.
Global navigation. This is navigation that runs across the top and bottom of every page; it contains links to the major sections of the Web site. The convention is to begin the global navigation with a "Home" classification. Other commonly used classifications include "About" and "Contact."
Home. The classification "Home" is the convention for the name of the home page.
About. The classification "About" contains content describing an organization's history, financial performance, business focus, mission statement, etc. Sometimes it's used in conjunction with the name of the organization (e.g., "About Microsoft").
Contact. The classification "Contact" or "Contact Us" contains contact details such as the organization's email address, telephone number, physical address, and directions to offices.
Feedback. The classification "Feedback" is used to encourage feedback from the reader.
Logo. The organization's logo should appear on every page. It should be placed in the top left of the page and should be linked back to the home page.
Search. The name for the search facility on a Web site is "Search." The button or link that will initiate the search should also be labeled "Search." (The search should also be initiated if the reader presses the return/enter key.) The term for more advanced search options is "Advanced Search."
The search box should be available on every page of the Web site. It should be placed in the top right-hand corner of the page.
Colors. The conventional colors for hypertext are blue for unclicked, purple for clicked.
Links. If the reader clicks on a link, he or she expects to be brought to an HTML page. If it's anything else, such as an audio or video file, or a password-protected area, inform readers in advance. Tell them the type and size of the file, and offer them a link to the software (e.g., Adobe Acrobat, RealPlayer, etc.).
Next week: providing the reader with feedback and support, which will conclude this series on Web navigation.
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