This post talks about promoting organic navigation through on-page actions as opposed to using a traditional main navigation as your main source of site exploration
There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it? Not in the force, but in the way we choose to navigate through a website. I know it’s happened to me. My eyes and mind have opened wide to the idea that “on-page” navigation should be promoted to the primary way we navigate a website. And the traditional menu bar should be demoted to second fiddle. (*gasp*) It took more than the idea of using the hamburger menu icon on the desktop to think this way, but it’s probably the impetus I needed to talk about it.
Do or Do Not. There is No Try. —>
As I touched on at the end of my previous post, in a way I’ve begun to downgrade main navigation to utility navigation status. But before you break out the pitchforks and torches, hear me out. If somewhere around 60% of most website traffic comes from search, then hopefully (if you have a content rich enough site) visitors are entering your site on a page that is relevant to what they are looking for. (And not the homepage) From this access point, as a designer I should be presenting them with what I perceive to be one of the many next logical steps in their journey through your website. Directly on-page, as opposed to through your main navigation. Be it related services content, blog posts, people, resource access, news items, etc., the list goes on. We often refer to it as connecting the 3 P’s – Perspective, People & Past Experiences. And I can do that much more effectively through on-page actions, as opposed through menu bar interactions.
It’s A Trap! —>
Having that access in plain sight comes from the idea of a more simplified mobile experience of finger scrolling/swiping. The hope is that the user carves their own path through your website more organically. Discovering enough of what they need to know through the pages they found directly in front of them through on-page navigation. Of course it won’t encompass their entire visit, sooner or later they’ll find it’s time to make the decision that now they want to seek out a more specific page like “pricing.” And at that point, that is when they look to your “traditional” main navigation. But now it serves more like utility nav or a sitemap type page (though it doesn’t look that way) and can be comfortably placed behind a hamburger icon. Why behind an icon? Well people are creatures of habit. If a user sees a menu bar they’ll use it. (duh!) They’ll forgo the on-page content for what’s old and comfortable. And I’m trying to limit that. I’d rather have a user absorb the good stuff on-page, then think to themselves “let’s get down to the nitty-gritty” and seek out the full navigation menu. So I guess we aren’t necessarily “losing” the menu bar, it’s just getting a demotion. It’s sort of like a designer being a travel agent and planning out the best percieved plan for your trip across the pond (on-page), but don’t worry if it rains there is always a back-up plan (traditional navigation element).
I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing —>
Listen, I understand that there will be push back on this idea. On-page navigation over main menu bar navigation? Poppycock! In a way, it’s embracing the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy that the UX community uses as their rallying cry around the disuse of hamburger menu icon and using it purposefully. By reshaping the negative into a positive and using it to sculpt the navigational narrative, we get to change the story. We get to simplify the story until it is needed to be more in-depth. I know what you are saying, Weren’t you the guy who said we should be using “Mega Menus” like 10 minutes ago? Yup. That was me. But like I said, I’ve had an awakening.
There’s Been an Awakening. Have you felt it? —>
An awakening into what’s called “conversion centered design (CCD),” or at least aspects of it. Using color and contrast, directional (navigational) cues, white space and other persuasive design and psychology principles to change the way users navigate a website. A lot of CCD is typically “page oriented” with a singular landing page goal, but why can’t it be used throughout a website? I’ve said it before, every page is your homepage. Why can’t every page be a landing page? I think it can. But that’s for another discussion, which you can find here.
“Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
»Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Someone has to take the first step. And just because something doesn’t work immediately, doesn’t mean it never will. It’s called evolution. You can even call it revolution. There are people who lead with instinct and try new things and there are those that need somebody else’s reaffirming data to take the first step. I’m not one of those people. Habits change. People change. The way we do things changes. It’s part of why I think everything’s eventual. Even demoting menu bars to a lower priority.