Never stop thinking

Michael Wong thinks users can't handle navigational links anywhere but on the left side of the page:

"If you tried to buck this convention by placing the main navigational links anywhere else, it could easily confuse most users." Use Standard

It will not surprise you to learn that I disagree. This is too simplistic. Most novice users I've seen in usability tests ignore the top and sidebars and concentrate on the first headline, scrolling down to the bottom and possibly use the text links. Then and only then do they go to the sidebar.

When I think how many web designers spend hours debating navbars and then say, oh, here's where the content goes, I wince because I used to be the same way. Design the content too!

But even saying that navbars are not as important as you think is not enough: I would qualify this by saying the users were in a "search" mode: trying to find a specific piece of information. I don't see why this would change when users are in casual use mode, but I try to avoid broad strokes unless I'm doing it for humorous effects or doing an elevator pitch on usability.

This bothers me so much because it reminds me of when I first got into usability so long ago. Usability rules of thumb should be used a starting point for thinking, not the ending point. Beginners find broad proclamations tempting, but they are the primrose path to perdition (except for this one). To paraphrase a teacher from college "Never stop thinking. Never!"

I also believe but have no actual evidence to support the view that while graphically, having a different colored navigation bar, on the left or right sides makes sense, it discourages people from reading the sidebar as much, to the extent they do, by making it too easy to focus on just the middle of the page. My gut feeling is, white space works better.

Jared Spool has done actual research. He tested the importance of page layout to ecommerce success. The key quote:

"The sites that ignored the 'expected placement' of elements sold just as much product as those that matched it precisely."

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, October 18, 2002 (Link)


Posted by kevin D. white Friday, October 18, 2002 at 03:33 PM

Alan Cooper paraphrase:

"It's better to be specific than accurate"

i.e. Right, left, Top, Bottom matters but consistancy matters more. People can learn (baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult) and many aren't afraid to learn. Be nice, be consistant and help them out.

Consistancy builds trust. Trust builds relationships. Yadda Yadda Yadda