Traffic Cop, Not a Clown: Good Web Navigation

Design & Development

Ian Lurie Sep 4 2007

It’s “cute”. It’s “clever”. It’s useless!

I don’t want ‘clever’. And I don’t necessarily want cute, unless you’re selling me teddy bears.

Have a look at this design (blurred to protect the innocent). This site sells 800 numbers:

Navigation Design

What I need – the button descriptions – is totally shouted down by what’s cute: The numbers on the buttons.

I’m not saying this just to beat up on some poor designer. There’s a way to avoid this kind of mess:

  1. Look at your web site navigation: The buttons that let people move around the site.
  2. Write down the first 10 adjectives you think of.
  3. Read them.

Adjectives to watch out for:

Cute

Clever

Funny

Entertaining

Sexy

Creative

Unique

Cool

Fancy

Intricate

Beautiful

etc.

Phrases to watch out for:

“This will really make people ask questions.”
Navigation shouldn’t make people ask questions. It should answer them. That is how you will get more clicks.

“This is exactly what the CEO wanted.”
Run! The CEO generally has no idea what the customer wants.

“I love these icons!”
Gut check time. Do you love the icons, or what they say? The former is worthless if no one can figure out the latter.

Navigation should be clear, compelling, helpful. It’s a traffic cop, not a clown.

tags : conversation marketing

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4 Comments

  1. Good analogy. I’ve heard some people make the same “curiosity” argument for obscure navigation titles, but in their defense, every one of them has listened to reason (at least concerning the navigation).

  2. I’m looking through the postings about 800 numbers and there’s my website! We’ve changed the site to a blog format and are taking that blue shirt pic off and putting a video on too.
    I’ve had the phone pad navigation for 8 or 10 years or so. I appreciate input and can tell this was honest because you didn’t even intend to send it to me. But I’m not really sure what your point is in the post. Is it that you think the words on the buttons are wrong or not descriptive enough?
    We changed them recently and there are still things “in progress” but I never had anyone say that the buttons were confusing. Most people like the way the buttons make phone sounds. I admit that is a little bit cute, but it’s realy not cute for cute’s sake. It does reinforce the theme of the site, since I am in the phone business.
    We also changed the row of three buttons on the right to better reflect the services that we provide. We’re also fixing the boxes in the left column at the moment too.
    Feel free to poke or jab, I was just an example. I just wanted to understand the point and your advice better.
    btw, The internet is very big but it’s a small world sometimes too!
    Bill Quimby
    1-800 MARKETER
    http://www.TollFreeNumbers.com

  3. ian

    Hi Hal,
    Small internet, indeed!
    My point is that the 3 x 3 structure is too hard to read. It also takes up a lot of space unnecessarily.
    Also, the navigation isn’t search-friendly. Those buttons can’t be ‘crawled’ by a search engine at all. Your search ranking is very good, so I doubt it’s having an impact here – chances are you have other links to deeper pages, and the search engines are finding their way that way.
    Consider maybe doing two horizonal button groups: One across the top, with the most important stuff, and a second one in the footer, with the secondary stuff.
    Hope all is well.

  4. An easy navigation is more important than the design. Some webmasters tend to forget this hard fact. A professional looking website with easy navigation beats a cute flash site that is hard to navigate. And what most people seem to forget is that website visitors are looking for information or services. They usually don’t care about how high tech your website looks, as long as its professional looking.

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