We don’t need no stinkin’ navigation

April 12, 2006

I have been implementing web sites for what seems like forever and I have to honestly say that this is the first time I have ever heard this "Do we even really need a navigation".  The crazy thing about this statement was that the client was honest.  The other crazy thing is that the client was not your normal crazy customer they were serious and they had a point.  Why would really need some complicated navigation.  If you represent content in a logical way each of the "jump" pages in a web site should be good enough.

Obviously, they did not remove the nav all together, I think that would be suicide, but they bring up a valid point that I think needs to be brought to light.  This is not a new point, gosh, google has made this point since its inception.  What the exercise gave them (the "do we really need a navigation" exercise) was that they evaluated their content at a high level and realized that they were managing links in a complicated navigation that were not even being used.  Their theory was that the navigation at a minimal needed to offer some high level access to areas so that users that were unfamiliar with the site could "get around".  They concluded that they really needed just 2 levels of navigation for their entire site.  Note: this site is a prominent site that you would all know and receives millions of page views a week and has thousands (if not 10's of thousands) of pages so, it this is a big decision.

I liken their decision with the recent changes in the Duke.edu site. They have "googleized" their home page to have "search" as a prominent part of their "navigation".  Duke has been in the lead in other areas of their use of digital media.  A few years ago, they were one of the first Universities to give their freshman each an IPod so they could record their classes.  Other universities have begun to offer Podcasting of the lectures (I think Stanford even sells them on ITunes).  Maybe Duke (and the client above) are on to something.  Maybe we have become more sophisticated as web users and we don't need elaborate navigation's.  I will leave you with one note though (since I am currently undecided on the need for "full" navigation elements) – recently this client during a very high traffic time, created an image that linked to a major point on their site.  After a few days of low links to the major portion of the site, they added some text "Click here for more info >>" in the bottom right corner of the page – in one day with the new image they received 3 times as much traffic to the major area.  Maybe we are not so ready, but I still like the idea of "trimming" navigation's based on actual usage.  Certainly makes the CMS implementation a heck of a lot easier.


3 Responses to “We don’t need no stinkin’ navigation”

  1. mikull Says:

    I love usability studies and analytics. They teach developers how to understanding marketing- and web development is marketing whether we like it or not. Sure, as a developer I have to work the design and build the applications, but that’s just the vehicle. It’s a given. And given that, we’re marketing it- we’re selling the site. Not just a product or university; sometimes we’re selling an idea, the drama- maybe just a feeling.

    Sometimes you get lucky, though- and get a client who’s more in tune with usability than you are- ‘do we even need a navigation?’ -that’s the best customer quote I’ve heard in all my time learning to understand usability.

    Most clients don’t know about usability though- most don’t understand what their analytics can teach them. Evaluate the resource- determine the drive. Cut eveything you have in half, then cut that in half, and then make your site. Roll it over and let the vehicle drive it-

    Developers often need to smack their clients updside the head. We are the professionals, but of course we’re always dealing with the ‘one man usability test’, and we’re forced to do what the client wants, no matter what they really need. Hey, our time is their money- so I’m not losing sleep over it; so it’s refreshing to hear this one.

  2. notronwest Says:


    I would agree with your statement except I would clarify it as “Web Site development” is marketing. When you build a Web Site you are certainly selling something.

    I am only a usability _expert_ because I have been using the web since 1995. I have sat down with plenty of smart people in my time that don’t fully understand what is good navigation.

    Flashback — “No you do not want 5 layers of navigation embeded in JavaScript DHTML Menus” === “Is that why my page takes so long to load and why the page “flickers” on machines that don’t have dual pentiums?”

    I would agree “We are the professionals” the only difference is that we are professionals in a field that is less than 15 years old. Nobody knows what to do with us.

  3. mikull Says:

    good point- and i’d further it by saying that even we aren’t always the best. how often do you learn something you should have known from a user or usability study not based in your own know how? i know i do- all the time.

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