The Immutable Laws of Effective Navigation
Effective navigation stands out. It’s clear, obvious, and highly visible.
You’ll need to have a clear section of the page designated for navigation–one that a visitor will immediately recognize as the navigation area when he arrives at the site. Navigation should not necessarily be the prime focus, but it must be highly visible.
On many sites, the main navigation is overly subdued. It sort of “lurks” on the page, but it’s not the kind of thing that really gets to a visitor’s consciousness. It gets drowned out because there is too much color or excitement in the rest of the page.
However, aside from those few exceptions, you’ll want your navigation to be used. So it will need a voice loud enough to be heard above the excitement of the rest of the site.
Here are 4 tips to make sure your navigation stands out:
1. Put it in a prime spot
It’s all about positioning. Give your main navigation good placement at the top or left of the page.
When visitors arrive at a page, they scan in an orderly pattern from left to right, starting in the top left corner and working down the page. So if your navigation is at the top or on the left, it’s going to be seen fairly quickly. Also, this is where visitors expect to find navigation, so they’ll be primed to notice it there.
2. Use color
Besides size, color is the best way to get something noticed on a page. You can use color very powerfully in drawing out your navigation.
A very common technique is to place navigation options on a colored field, on a horizontal bar or a sidebar. This is effective because it creates a strong contrast with other elements on the page.
Just remember, the brightest, most vivid, most saturated colors will stand out the most. You don’t necessarily need to use a strong color for your navigation, but you do need to look at how your navigation color mixes with the rest of the page.
If you have a very bright site, pale colors in your navigation won’t cut it. But if the site is fairly subdued, even a hint of color to draw out your navigation will be plenty of contrast.
3. Give it space
If your navigation has a lot of clutter around it, it stands a smaller chance of getting noticed. In a busy situation, people do not notice detail. It’s very hard for them to pick out specific items. Think about the difficulty of trying to find somebody in a crowded room.
Visitors will pick out the elements of your page that have the most breathing room. So be sure to leave plenty of space around your navigation. Don’t let other elements–especially other text–get so close that the navigation is crowded out.
4. Separate it from ads
If want your navigation to be noticed, keep it away from ads.
People on the web are highly suceptible to “banner blindness”. That’s a real condition in which people ignore anything that is associated with an ad. Since most people are not fond of ads they try to avoid them. So keep ads and navigation physically separated. Don’t let them get mixed together.
Two key pointers: never put navigation above the logo. Since banners are frequently located in the center of the top of the page, that’s a prime spot to be ignored.
Also, if you have a blank, empty white space between your logo and something on the right side of the page, be very careful about filling it with navigation. It will be confused with banners simply because of guilt by association.
In addition to physically separating ads and navigation, you should make sure that your navigation doesn’t LOOK like an ad. Square or rectangular buttons and images at the top and sides of the page are especially problematic.
For example, take a look at http://www.sendfree.com. Notice that the member login button is not very obvious as navigation. It has an ad-like appearance and it’s in an area of the page where visitors would expect to see an ad.
Critically evaluate all of your buttons and images to make sure they won’t be mixed up with ads. Don’t leave any confusion in a visitor’s mind about where ads stop and navigation begins.
Position, color, space, and separation from ads. There you have it–four tips for making your navigation stand out.
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