07 Nov Intuitive Navigation in Website Design and Development
You stride unthinkingly up to a door and push on it, only to get jarringly stopped in your tracks. It really looked like a pusher, but no, it’s a puller. Quick, joke about still needing your coffee to the people behind you.
This is merely a push vs. pull proposition; things can get a little more complicated with website design and development.
Imagine walking up to a door and reaching for the knob, but there isn’t one. No handle, either. You push, but it doesn’t give. You look to the side for some sort of ID card swipey thing or a button. Nothing. Oh wait, there’s a retinal scanner down by your knees.
This would be non-intuitive design. It violates the user’s expectations and offers no obvious guidance around those expectations; for example, it might work with a giant sign that says, “Crawl to approach door & place eyes in scanner to enter.”
What Is Intuitive Navigation?
Intuitive or user-friendly navigation is a pillar of good website design and development. It refers to visitors’ ability to get around a site and find exactly what they’re looking for without having to think about it or dig around too much. Or, if the navigation contravenes expectations, it ushers visitors without causing interruptions or confusion.
Smart website design lets users easily get to what they want and—a more overlooked aspect—also lets them avoid what they don’t care about. It’s also invisible. People aren’t generally conscious of user-friendly design; it’s only when they run into walls and experience problems that they start to notice the navigation.
Why Does Intuitive Navigation Matter?
If someone really has to get through that ridiculous door described above, they’ll keep at it until they do. But online, people have plenty of options. If your website makes them work too hard to find what they seek, they’ll quickly click away to another site.
User friendliness greatly increases your site’s stickiness. People who land there stay longer and click through to more pages. This increases traffic and exposure to your messaging. It yields more subscribers, readers, fans, social media connections, engagement, and referrals. It contributes to positive opinions of your site and brand, and ultimately increases sales and return visitors/repeat business.
What Are the Basics of Intuitive Navigation?
The most important part of user-friendly website design and development is a simple, clear main navigation bar. Usually, it runs horizontally across the top of pages or down the left side. It should appear in the same place, with the same categories in the same order, on every site page. Categories are typically things like Home, About, Services, Blog, and Contact. These are deeply ingrained user expectations.
Intuitive navigation anticipates what visitors are looking for. Whether it’s your store location and hours, the cost of your services, political satire, your qualifications, or adorable hedgehog pictures, incoming traffic can easily get to it via your main navigation bar and sub-navigation.
Lower level navigation is also important. The trickiest part is balancing enough specificity without making people scroll through too many options or think too much about where to go next.
Linking to pages from relevant words and phrases in site copy and content makes navigation more intuitive. This should be done from logical jumping-off points when it’s reasonable to assume some readers want to move on to something else. Navigation menus and in-text links should direct to the same pages, otherwise people may feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out where to navigate from.
Using Intuitive Navigation to Everyone’s Benefit
Great website design relies on intuitive navigation to get to the place where your goals and your visitors’ goals intersect. Visitors want something from your site and you want them to take something away from your site. For example, your traffic is often shopping for a product or service, and you hope they buy it from you.
As your site guides visitors to information, it should simultaneously funnel them to relevant calls to action. Maybe it’s purchasing something, signing up for your newsletter, subscribing to your updates, making a donation, or sharing something through their social media accounts. Regardless, intuitive navigation seamlessly carries visitors to what they want and encourages them to do what you want.