Personally, I find navigation to be the part of a website that really defines how I think of the site as a whole: annoying, amateur, functional, awesome. And although that ordering indicates a hierarchy, there’s really a fine line between annoying and awesome. Take, for example, the website that I did my first critique on. This is a portfolio site produced by a graphic artist, and the navigation is infuriating. The entire site consists of just one page, and the links at the top (which are divided into two navigation bars whose organization is beyond my understanding) are actually anchor links to sections farther down the page. Check it out at http://www.tanyamerone.com. Clearly, this person knows how to design an aesthetically pleasing website, but she edged over that line into the “annoying” category.
Krug gives us a lot of analogies to physical navigation (like the mall example), which is helpful to start conceptualizing the ways in which web navigation is—and isn’t—what we expect it to be. I think the biggest lesson I can take from this chapter is on page 54: “You’re usually trying to find something.” This is just a fact for web usage. Although I like surfing around to find new things, most people want to get in, find what they need, and get out. And especially when there is no sense of scale, direction, or location, this can be hard (57). Navigation has to be intuitive.
I think Krug spends a lot of time talking about the navigation of very complex pages. I appreciate his gripe about people not planning their pages beyond the top two levels (70). However, I’ve rarely designed pages that had more than two levels. And while it’s helpful to study what Amazon does, I wish he’d spent a little time on simpler pages and how to make their navigation as simple as they are.
But, he did give some good pointers for this. Being able to tell where you are no matter what page you’re on and always having a path to get quickly back home are good tips to live by, in my opinion. I’ll certainly use the trunk test in the future (85). I also find his practical examples to be very helpful, so I’m going to take a page out of his book and critique some actual web pages. Below, I’ll use some more examples to contextualize Krug’s ideas about navigation.
http://hardflip.com – I’d call this an amateur site in terms of navigation. I get the feeling that there’s some sort of organization, and I even understand the chronological blog part of the site in the bottom left quadrant, but it takes way too much effort to figure out what’s actually going on here. And the “changes coming … when time permits” tagline scares me. It makes me feel like I’m on Facebook and they’re about to completely change the way the navigations works … again. (Hey, there’s another example of a site that toes the line between “awesome” and “annoying.”)
http://www.youworkforthem.com – I’d call this one functional. The tabs at the top let me know what my options are, and the navigation is actually clear enough to counteract the fact that the homepage tells me nothing about what this page is for. (More on that when I get to Krug’s chapter on Identity.) The navigation bar also repeats halfway down the page. This is confusing at first, but it’s actually helpful once you realize what it is. I want to note, though, that while the top level of navigation is functional, all the clickable buttons are a bit overwhelming due to the fact that they aren’t labeled in any way. You have to click to find out what the link goes to, and clicking blindly isn’t a best practice for people used to avoiding viruses and such.
http://www.shankman.com – This is my “awesome” example. The navigation is persistent on every page, the buttons actually act like buttons, and the nav bar is at the top where it’s easily found. (There are still things that could be improved about this navigation, though. For example, I hate that the home page is Shankman’s blog. Although I’m OK with blogs being long scrolling pages because that’s what they are by nature, I’m not OK with home pages being long and scrolling.)
http://www.jerseyjoeart.com – Here’s another one that could easily have been awesome but instead falls into the “annoying” category. The links pick up the feel of the page and are clearly links, which is shown both by their spacing and the embedded rollover images. But … they’re placed at the bottom of the page, which is annoying to someone who is just browsing and wants to click through the site’s pages quickly. They also change places from page to page, which is frustrating when a person is trying to find something specific.
PS: I used http://www.randomwebsite.com to find several of these sites, and it’s a site that takes the simplest possible approach to navigation: It only has one link, and that one’s external, and the single page isn’t long and annoying. Refreshing!
This chapter is really, really interesting in that it makes us face the fact that we are the absolute worst people to be doing usability testing. Krug tells us that “the ‘main point’ is the one thing nobody inside the organization will notice is missing” (103). I think it’s astonishing how much this happens; it’s difficult to keep from happening even when one is aware of the problem.
One of the sites I mentioned above is a case in point. The home page of http://www.youworkforthem.com tells visitors absolutely nothing about the site’s purpose. This become an even bigger problem when (after several clicks into the site) one realizes the site is a platform for selling web design materials. I could have easily pirated a design off the home page of the site without ever realizing I was supposed to pay for it. This is an example of where an organization’s failure to explain their site’s purpose could lead directly to lost revenue.
I was interested in Krug’s distinction between taglines and welcome blurbs. I’m just not sure I agree that every site (barring the biggies like Amazon and CNN explained on page 106) needs both a welcome blurb and a tagline besides a page title and site ID. It seems to me like the page title, site ID, and tagline are all accomplishing very similar things. I looked back at my Master’s Portfolio site (which is at http://students.english.ilstu.edu/eaclar4/index.html) to try to decide which of these parts were essential rhetorically speaking. I found that the page title is “Reading Public Bodies … A Portfolio by Erin Frost,” and the welcome message is found below the image. But I don’t really see a site ID or a tagline, and I think the page is still rhetorically sound. (I’d be interested in seeing others comments about this. Disagreeing with Krug makes me nervous because the more I read of him, the more inclined I am to take his word for anything.)
I realize this post has rambled on for quite some time and I may be losing readers’ goodwill, so I’ll wrap up quickly (much as Krug does in this succinct chapter). I find the visual aid of a reservoir of goodwill to be helpful, but I will constantly be imagining my readers’ reservoirs to be almost empty just to be safe (162). I find the lists on pages 164-167 to be particularly helpful. Once again, as Krug stated early on, these are things that seem like common sense once you know them, but they are also things that are sometimes hard to figure out until you’ve gotten Krug’s perspective.
Especially intriguing is that Krug names some of the things known as identifying an advanced digital designer as the very things that diminish goodwill; “putting sizzle in my way” as a downfall makes me feel a little better about knowing nothing about Flash. Many of the things on the list to increase goodwill are things I learned during my print design classes three lifetimes ago. These include knowing what your audience wants and giving it to them, saving them effort by putting in effort yourself, and knowing what questions they want answered. Other suggestions are unique to web design, like providing printer-friendly pages and making it easy to recover from errors. These are the sorts of things that I feel should be obvious but often don’t think of.
I especially like Krug’s final admonition: “When in doubt, apologize.” This seems to me a mantra that could benefit many companies in terms of increasing corporate responsibility and creating goodwill with consumers.