Navigation 101

There’s an interesting article called Where am I? on A List Apart this month. It’s intended as a "back to basics" look at navigation.

I agree with the basic tenet on which the author, Derek Powazek, bases his discussion. The past/present/future ethos is simple yet powerful: where have I been, where am I and where can I go next?. It seems like an intuitive model for navigation.

Whether past is actually interpreted as past behaviour or what’s structurally behind you is something that many sites have struggled with. Should your context be based on the route you’ve taken to get to where you are? Or should it be based on the information architecture of the site? I firmly believe in the latter, as it gives all users the same context, and brings with it a sense of stability. You aren’t presented with different signage on the fifth floor of John Lewis depending on whether you took the lift straight from ground, or got the escalator up from four; nor should you be.

However I think the guideline to never, ever link to the page you’re on is wrong. (The site on which the article sits flouts this rule, btw.) Irrespective of where I am within a site, I am comforted by the fact that clicking the logo will take me to the homepage. Even if I’m on the homepage at the time, I want, and expect, this behaviour. The same is true of primary navigation. Although this functionality may appear redundant, it brings to the user a sense of consistency and comfort that shouldn’t be overlooked. The fact that it’s easier for content management systems to do this is by the by.

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