Global nav is phooey?

I guess I’m a little behind, but I just read this October 19th, 2005 post by Jared Spool: Global Site Navigation: Not Worthwhile?

Jared makes the quick claim that global navigation is unnecessary and rarely helpful. Naturally, a discussion ensues. Some in favor of global navigation argue that it is needed for people to form a mental model of the website. Others argue that it is only a last-ditch effort to find what they are looking for. Read the article for the details.

Global navigation
Links that appear on every page of a website, usually indicating the major categories that the website is organized into.

I typically build global navigation into sites that I design, but this posting has caused me to think a little more deeply on that.

Elements, such as global navigation links, on a web page should benefit the site visitor. So, what need does a site visitor have that global navigation addresses?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two major benefits:
1. It communicates to the site visitor what is in the site and where to look.
2. It should indicate which section of the site the visitor is in.

Following links from comments on Jared’s posting, here are a couple sites that have tried to different approaches to global navigation.

1. University of Wisconsin-Madison has topical, top-level nav on the home page, but if you click into the Admissions section, you won’t see any real global nav links. There are breadcrumb links and utility navigation links at the top. In addition, there are plenty of other local navigation and in-text options.

2. Amazon.com shows me three tabs at the top: Amazon.com, DAVIN’S Store, and See All 34 Product Categories. That looks like global nav to me. The product categories flies out to a sheet of links (incidentally, you see this technique in the New York Times site too). If I click on the “Camera and Photo” link in the product categories list, then the next page inserts a new “Camera and Photo” tab between the DAVIN’s Store and product categories tabs. And, there are sub-nav options clearly tied to the Camera and Photo tab. Is this global or local navigation? It looks hybrid to me.

So, it may be time to release the thoughts of global, local, utility, footer nav just for a bit. The point again is to communicate to the people visiting the site how to find what they are looking for, quickly. Search, of course, is an answer, but not the only one. Some still prefer browsing a site, but perhaps browsing can be improved by focusing more on local navigation.

All that said, I think I disagree with the bluntness of Jared Spool’s claim, though it is worth challenging what is becoming convential conceptions of how to organize navigation systems for a website.

Author: Davin Granroth

Davin is Chief Operating Officer for Covenant Eyes, Inc. in Owosso, MI, USA, where he gets to mix his background in user experience design, research, and strategy with the operation of a software company. For more, see his LinkedIn profile.

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