People have their own understanding of navigational structures
I ran an informal usability test on a client’s website about a month ago and although I can’t show you the exact findings, I can share with you some insights that I gained from the test.*
I’m not sure how other local ad agencies approach website revamps, but since we’re a web-based agency, I decided to do things properly. By-the-book. I wanted to present a solid case for an interface redesign that was based on actual research, on user-centered design, instead of just submitting a flashy new Home page design and a sitemap.
So, I decided to conduct a usability test because it would present the facts in the best possible way; with real results and real feedback from real people.
Concerning navigation, I found that people have their own understanding of navigational structures.
The website that I tested had two horizontal navigation bars on its Home page, with the masthead sort of sandwiched in-between. When you visited an inside page, let’s say a product page, a third vertical navigation bar was added to the left side of the page, representing a sub-menu that you could click on to explore more content within that product category.
Sounds a little confusing, right?
Well, most of the participants thought so, too.
3 out of 5 people found the site’s split navigation to be confusing.
One participant cited that it had “2 columns for me to click. That confuses me on the things that I want to find, whether it is on column 1 or 2”. Another participant was unsure of what the labels on the navigation bars meant; he only understood after he clicked and reviewed the each link. Yet another said that there were “too many links” and that it looked like “a bank’s website”.
I think that each website that you visit has its own learning curve and I observed that people dealt with this based on their own level of experience. Some were quick to grasp the site’s navigation; they understood the navigational deficiencies and searched for content based on where they felt it should be.
This reminded me of how important it is to have an iterative approach to building navigation; the more you let people test your navigation structures, the closer you’ll get to creating sites that people can browse through intuitively.
Otherwise, everyone just needs to learn the Internet.
Next Post: Part 2 – People notice your mistakes!
*Direct quotes from test participants are shown in italics.