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Improve your usability with effective navigation labels

By:
July 29, 2015

One of the main objectives our clients identify when they redesign their websites or applications is that they want the navigation to be “intuitive”. The primary and secondary navigation structures are only effective if you do a good job managing your user’s expectations. Most users are task oriented and want to quickly understand how to find the information or functionality they are looking for. Sifting through a collection of links that have clever product names or industry jargon leads to unnecessary cognitive load and will cause frustration. A clear, concise, and descriptive navigation system creates a better user experience because it removes cognitive barriers. Below are a few things to think about to help make your site’s navigation more intuitive.

Tell it like it is

Navigation labels don’t need to be clever, flashy or sexy. They need to help the user predict exactly what content and functionality they will be accessing when they are selected. We often see usability participants skip a section of a site that contains the information they are looking for because the title is unclear.

For example, the term “Resources” is generic and means different things to different people. Using direct terms such as “Forms and Documents” communicates exactly the type of information held within the section or sub-section.

 

Use Distinctive Categories

The difference between “Products” and “Solutions” may be clear to those within your organization, but they aren’t to your users.  If both “Products” and “Solutions” are presented as separate navigation titlees, the user will likely need to explore both sections in order to find the information they are looking for. The last thing we want to do is confuse those in search of details about your product or service offering.

We recommend providing distinctive and descriptive labels that are meaningful to your target audiences. Instead of having several similar links in the main navigation, merge them into one unambiguous category. On the landing page, there’s room to provide users with additional context and information. Users don’t mind navigating beyond the homepage if they’re confident they are on the path toward the content they desire.

 

Don’t use internal language

Every big company has their own internal language. That language is often filled with product names developed by marketers – these names sound great and work well in printed brochures exclusively focused on a given product. However, for the customer who is trying to learn more about your products and service offering, using these names as navigation titles can create confusion and frustration by making the user to take more time and effort to sift through items that may not be relevant to their needs.

Providing context for the product categories and the audiences they target can help create a system the lets the user focus on what is appropriate for them without forcing them to become experts in your offering.

 

Get feedback from end users

The best way to understand how to effectively label your navigation structure is to talk to your target audience. We use numerous techniques to solicit feedback from users.

Methods such as Card Sorting and Collaborative Design Concepting enable end users to demonstrate exactly how they would categorize the information that is being presented. Observing end users classify and organize the content gives us insight into how they would search for it in a real world scenario.

During Usability Evaluations, we often will ask a participant to tell us what they think will be in a section before they actually select the link. This provides insight into their perception of your navigation labels and helps us understand where breakdowns may occur later.

If you are looking for ways to improve your site experience and engagement or if you just want to make sure your site is “intuitive” contact us we’d love to chat about it.

 

By John Golden
Principal

John’s career in interactive media design began in 1995 and has spanned over two decades with a focus on developing simple, streamlined approaches for complex problems.

View John's Bio

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