Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience

Matt Mickiewicz

O’Reilly, well known for its vast number of content heavy books for the techie crowd is also the first major publisher to realize the lack of information about designing Web Navigation systems. To fill in the gaping hole they released Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience, which retails for $34.95 US. After many reprints since its 1998 publishing date, it is still one of the best all-encompassing books on the subject.

The author of the book, Jennifer Fleming, does an excellent job of explaining from the ground up on how to build a successful Web Navigation system in the comprehensive 251 page book with quotes, commentary and screen shots that deconstruct some of today’s leading websites.

This book demonstrates that there is more to having an effective web presence than clean, compact code and spiffy graphics that load fast. Without a usable interface, everything else that goes into a website is worthless. Designing a user-friendly interface for the web requires a completely new way of thinking and a new set of skills that differ greatly from those required to actually create a pretty page. Jennifer Fleming does an excellent job at presenting the knowledge required for a successful user interface.

The first half of the book details processes in navigation design and goals for which you should strive for in navigation design.

The author of the book preaches a ‘user-centric’ approach, which focuses in on meeting your particular audiences goals and needs. Asking yourself questions such as "Where am I?" and "How can I get back to where I once was" is recommended as a step in placing yourself in the users shoes. Creating profiles of the types of people who will visit your site, their goals and Internet experience is also suggested by the Jennifer Fleming as a way on building the user-centric navigation system. The successful navigation system cannot be build without your audiences input. Fortunately a lot of attention in the book is devoted to user testing. Questions such as at what stage of your project you should test, who should participate in the tests, who should do the testing and how to evaluate the test results are discussed in length.

Successful navigation depends on ten qualities according to the book’s author. The qualities include "remain consistent", "provide feedback" and "be appropriate for the sites purpose". To help readers learn how to apply the ten qualities of successful navigation, each of the points is reinforced by an example and screen shot from a real website that follows the particular principle down to the letter.

Interspersed throughout the entire book are sidebars which provide handy references to websites and books, rules of thumb, and interviews, and top ten lists such as "Top 10 Requests that Scare Ordinary Users". All of these sidebars provide quick reading which nicely supplements the content of the book.

Grouping things, on the web or in real life is all about providing logical paths to achieve the desired outcome. Unfortunately problems arise because relationships are not set in stone, who’s to say that milk shouldn’t be found in the drinks section?

The author of the book suggests a six-step process starting with information gathering and ending with maintenance and growth planning as a way of coming up with content organization that allows your users to find what they are looking for with minimal effort.

After six chapters of enlightening and practical information, the book moves onto a series of chapters that consist of series of case studies about navigation design for different types of sites. Alas, many of the sites that are written about have been re-designed which makes it impossible to actually go online and surf the sites while taking note of the navigation design elements mentioned in the book.

If you are involved in creating websites, whether it be as a programmer, designer or project manager, I recommend that you pick up this book. The concepts presented in the first few chapters of the book are timeless and will apply for as long as the Internet exists.

Rating: 4/5

Click here to buy Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience at Amazon.com

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