HTML sites differ from other communication media (with the exception of CD ROM) in that the designer is able to offer numerous navigational aids to the viewer. The viewer is not forced to read page one before going to page two or required to see scene four before moving on to scene five. There are some WWW sites that still adhere to the linear method of presenting information, but most people have recognized the benefits of establishing a nonlinear structure for navigation through the material. Allowing users to freely choose their path through the material creates quite a challenge for the page designer.
Sublevels and Mapping the Structure
When developing a complex site, it may be useful to create hierarchy charts or maps to assist with the navigation. Sketching the overall structure of the site on paper is very useful as a planning device and will help you establish sublevels and connections between each of the nodes. Often times it is useful to draw arrows from a sketch of the WWW page to the sketch of the page it links to. A nonlinear, multimedia storyboard does not have to only be used in the planning stages. If your site is exploratory in nature or has many sublevels of information, then a map of the structure is essential for the viewer to get an overall sense of the scope of your project.
Structuring Navigation (Anchors)
If your pages consist mainly of text, then you might want to provide a method of jumping to different sections of the text within a page. Anchors give the user the freedom to jump around without having to scroll and search through the material. Creating long text pages and providing links to different sections has an advantage over a series of shorter pages, especially if people will be printing the page, but a long page also takes longer to download. If the page takes too long to download, then the page’s usefulness will be questioned and measured against the time it takes to download it.
Intuitive vs. Exploratory
Generally speaking, there are two different types of navigational systems or concepts. The first type is the intuitive navigational system, where the user easily identifies the meaning and location of buttons, and easily moves from page to page without confusion. The intuitive navigational system strives to not only present the navigational information in an easy to understand manner, but it also helps to chart a course for the user. When you are designing an information-based site, you will most likely want to have an intuitive navigational system. Following are some tips in constructing navigational devices that will assist the user in maneuvering through your site:
Exploratory InterfacesLinks should be easy to identify (this includes graphics)
Graphic icons should use commonly understood metaphors
There should be consistency in the placement of key navigational devices
Use color to indicate important navigation elements
Specify what the link connects to (label your icons)
There are times when an intuitive navigational system conflicts with the in-tention of the author. Sites that encourage exploration and discovery often rely on interfaces that challenge the viewer. Games and artistic exploratory sites often have secret pockets of knowledge only available to those who are brave enough to search for them. There are rewards and pitfalls in nonintuitive interfaces. There is always the danger of confusion, frustration, and failure. As the user traverses the site, there should be cues, either visual or textual, to assist them if they absolutely cannot find their way. They should also be warned that the site is experiential in nature and the success of the experience will depend on the ability to explore and discover.
Complex or Confusing Interfaces
When constructing complex sites, the challenge of creating an intuitive navigational system is great. If the site is too complex or the interface is too confusing, it becomes easy for the user to get lost. The more complex a site, the greater the need for a good navigational system. The following factors can lead to a confusing interface:
If the site contains too much information, it is useful to categorize and subdivide the information. Creating a moderate number of sublevels which can be subdivided if necessary, can help structure the information in a more manageable way. If the site has too little information, it is helpful to provide more information where necessary. The best way to identify the problematic areas is to watch someone attempt to navigate through the site. When creating links, be careful to create links only where necessary, rather than linking everything for the sake of linking. Often times, the train of thought is broken when there are too many links on the page. Information that is sequential in nature may want to only have "forward" and "reverse" and "jump to start" buttons available.Too much information
Not enough information
Too many links
Not enough links
Next page : Navigational Graphics
Back to Chapter 1