Your thoughts on non traditional navigations in web design

What are your thoughts on non traditional navigations in web design?

A friend recently approached me and wanted a site designed and developed. He is a painter and he wants to showcase his work. I have complete creative control and last night while thinking about ways to incorporate his signature into the design I stumbled upon a possible non traditional navigation menu idea. I just wanted to bounce the idea off of other designers to see what they think of it and possible pros and cons.

I definitely feel like implementation will be a real pain. I haven’t really come up with a concrete idea of how to implement it. Image maps feel so archaic but still haven’t been deprecated so I feel like there are still uses for them, and this may be it. My only other thoughts would be some sort of <canvas> implementation, or lastly flash. However, I really don’t like the idea of a flash implementation.

I really just want to give users something different than they have seen and I like how it incorporates his signature into a major design element. I also feel that although the navigation isn’t your typical list style, it doesn’t detract from the user’s experience. I feel like it’s still simple and visually appealing (imo).

I’ve attached an image of how I envision it in my head. Let me know what you guys/gals think.


I don’t mean to be insulting, but this approaches the level of classic “mystery meat” navigation. You have to be careful not to confuse your users by putting aesthetics above usability.

Oh no problem, I’m open to all critiques. Do you think it’s more confusing that not all the images are labeled or that the one label visible is broken down into gal-le-ry instead of gallery? I have intentions of labeling all the images that would function as “links” for the navigation.

If you use abstract navigation methods, build out a quick mockup of the first page and present it to a few ‘non-technical’ test users and observe their interaction with it to make sure it’s usable before committing to a full build.

I’d normally agree that it’s best to avoid unusual navigation, but if a site is purely artistic then there’s room for experimentation and expression. Have a look at for world class examples of these types of sites.

Thanks EastCoast,

That is a great idea. I was heading in that direction but wanted to see what other designers thought first. Being the site of an artist I took the liberty to come up with something unusual and thought provoking under the assumption the typical user to the site would appreciate it.

I will definitely do a mock up and have non technical users unknowingly try to navigate through it.

I feel like the hard part is creating the mockup itself. I don’t think there will really be a “pretty” way of implementing an abstract navigation. Hopefully <canvas> and image maps as a fallback will suffice.

Thanks again for the good advice!

Even as an Art director I find these “non-trad-navs” gimmicky and annoying, and thy have to be ****'ing good to even achieve that. That’s just me personally.

Conceptually, you have to think form the point of view of user exp. If your gimmick doesn’t click ( pardon the pun) it will be hated from the start,and even if it does it still breaks the “don’t make me think” principle of UX. The best you will be able to hope for us that your nav…gets an initial “ooooahhhhh” the first couple of times; after that repeat visitors might regard your page as “that inconvenient site where I have to do… to go to…”

That being said , as long as you don’t sacrifice semantics and accessibility for the sake of presentation, it’s not like it would be “evil”; I just dont think you really “gain” as much as you’d think in the end for the effort, even when it’s a good effort.

Hi dresden_phoenix,

Thanks for the honest feedback.

I agree that the user definitely will hate it from the start if they don’t initially understand how to use the navigation. As well as I want to keep it easy for the user to so it doesn’t get that inconvenient feel.

Hopefully I can make it really intuitive by adding all of the labels. I feel labeling it with navigation terms people are familiar with like about, home, gallery, contact, etc. will help.

I’ll definitely give it a go and see how it turns out. I feel more and more sites just feel the same to me. Granted they may look a bit different but sometimes it’s refreshing to see something completely new even though it may not fit in the traditional mold.