Web design 101: Make your website easy to navigate
This morning, reading Rule 10 in BIS’ Never Use Pop Up Windows and 50 Other Ridiculous Web Rules, I was reminded of the pleasures of getting lost.
Do you remember? When we got lost? We used maps in cars. We stopped to ask directions. We stopped again. We struggled some more with the map. Fought a bit. Downed a cold beer. We got out of the car yet again. Raised our eyes at the sun for deliverance.
Our maps of the world weren’t round like Columbus’s version. They were fuzzy, zigzaggy one-way routes to perdition. Paper. Do you remember that?
Our maps were wrong, or we were wrong. Some of them were just out-of-date. They led us to towns at twilight we never would have gotten to with a good map (and never went back to). They landed us in the middle of strange conversations at counters and tables and street corners. They gave us odd traveling companions—people that were lost like us. When it wasn’t a living hell, it was great. It was like The Road, but without cannibalism.
Do I pine for those days? Sometimes. But never when I’m surfing the web.
So, when I was trying to get out of bed this morning (worrying about that Wednesday post I’d gotten lazy about over the summer), and I picked up my copy of Never Use Pop Up Windows, Rule 10 struck me as genius. It was written by UI guru Steve Krug (please forgive his website.) Here are Krug’s words in full.
We’re inherently lost when we’re on the web, and we can’t peek over the aisles to see where we are. Web navigation compensates for this missing sense of place by embodying the site’s hierarchy, creating a sense of ‘there’. Navigation isn’t just a feature of a website; it is the website. The moral? Web navigation had better be good.
The reason Krug’s words made an impact is because I wasn’t only thinking of the tabs or links that appear in the navigation menus of our headers, footers or sidebars when we design or use a website. It wasn’t just anchor links and scrolling indexes that came to mind, or how all that cross-linking makes for a smoother, more intuitive, more elegant user experience.
As a writer who designs websites, it reminded me of the struggle I always go through when confronted with a pile of written information about a company if that company has never really thought about how they want to tell their story online. Because, fundamentally, when it’s your job to find the thread and organize and layer information so that it tells a story, navigation is your first concern. What text do users see first? Where does it take them? How does it get them there? These are all storytelling questions, but they’re also navigation questions.
What I realized reading Krug this morning is that storytelling on the web has its own internal navigation. Or to put it even more succinctly: storytelling is navigation.
So, while I do love to get lost in the visual journey of a good brutal website, or any website that has a lot to say visually—and while I absolutely treasure my beautiful hellish wanderings by car in the days before GPS—I’ve got to agree with Krug that websites that leave you looking for windows and doors will probably not keep you very long. Even, or especially, if you’re writing one, you should keep that in mind.
Max Sheridan's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications in the US, UK and elsewhere. He's worked as a teacher, journalist, editor and copywriter. He's the founder and director of Write CY, a Nicosia-based platform for creative writing and community storytelling, where he teaches Story Craft, a 10-week short story writing course. His novel Dillo was released by Shotgun Honey in December 2017. Talk to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.