March 17, 2004

The Joy Of Navigation Design

So, I wanted to find out more about designer Ann Willoughby, so I googled her.


The top link is to a page on AIGA website.

So, now I know more about Ann Willoughby. But I'm intrigued. She's listed in a box called "Meet Our Board."


Also in that box I see Nathan Shedroff listed as president. And I did a double take.

I'm on the AIGA site. I see a box labeled "Meet Our Board." And I see Nathan is listed as President. Is Nathan president of the AIGA? That didn't *sound* right, I thought somebody else was, but looking at Ann's page, and clicking to his page on the site, didn't give me any other clues.


So, I desperately searched out navigational cues to figure out what was going on here. The URL: "" is useless -- there's no suggestion of hierarchy or place there.

The word "Members" in the navigation bar seems to be highlighted (it's black, the others are gray), but clicking it takes me to a page about member benefits and I don't see anything about any boards.

Huh. So now what? Nathan is the president of what board? Clicking around the other global navigation elements (Forum, Publications, Initiatives) turned up nothing.

So I do a search on "Nathan Shedroff", and here are the results (I can't link to the results, because the results page does not provide a unique URL):


Ahh! That looks like a breadcrumb. And it shows a thing called "about our board" in something called "communities of interest".

Clicking "about our board" reveals this page. If you read closely, you might see something about the AIGA Center for Brand Experience. Well. What's that? There's little clue on this page.


Going back to that search result, the link above "about our board" is "communities of interest."


Oh! Look at those things over on the right side. "Brand Experience"!


And on that page, a link to "Meet Our Board", featuring Ann Willoughby, who got me started on this wild goose chase.

All of this could have been mitigated with a few simple conventions/best practices in navigation design. All I needed were breadcrumbs on that original Ann Willoughby page to tell me where I was on the site, and how to click "up" a level. Barring that, the global navigation could have been better tied to the second-level navigation. If you look at the "Communities of Interest" page above, what you probably didn't see was that there's an item in the left-hand navigation that is now 'selected.' But because the left-hand navigation is so far removed from the global navigation, it never occurred to me that the two were related.

Had I clicked down through the site, this all might not have been as much of an issue, but when I found myself on a page deep within the AIGA's labyrinth, care of Google, I was totally disoriented.

Now, ask yourself, how does the "Page Paradigm" help you here? The page paradigm totally ignored what became the *key* element of my research. My original "goal" was to learn about Ann Willoughby. On reading that page about Ann, my goal shifted, to learn more about this "board". Shifting and evolving goals are not only common -- they are the norm.

The page paradigm totally broke down, because I couldn't click something to take me to my new, evolving goal, nor could I click the back button on my browser, as that would just bring me back to Google. Strong navigation design would have oriented me in this information space (, serving as a scaffold for attempting to deeply understand a topic and its relationships.

In thinking about it a little further, imagine someone coming to the site who isn't as personally invested as I was in tracking this down (I'm friends with Nathan, and have met Ann, so I'm perhaps not typical). Upon clicking to Ann's original page, and then to Nathan's, that person might have simply assumed that Nathan is the President of the AIGA, and left the site, not realizing this was incorrect. And then this person could have acted on this incorrect information in some way. Navigation design isn't just about finding things -- it imbues meaning based on the contexts it provides.

Posted by peterme at 01:04 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack


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