Join Chris Nodder for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating progressive navigation, part of User Experience for Web Designers.
- Ultimately, your site is all about getting information across to your visitors. This information is either going to help them choose what to buy, to sign up for a service you offer, or just to let them know more about a topic. Everything else, the navigation structure, the search function, and so on, is only on the site in order to support this task, to get people to the place where the information lives. Having said that, any site with more than a couple of information pages is going to need a way to lead visitors to the correct content. That normally means adding summary pages that roll up content into categories.
Typically, these categories are the same as your top-level menu items. Category pages are the top-level pages for each section of the site. They provide an introduction to the collection of articles that make up a section of the site. Category pages work as a drill-down point for information within the section. Obviously, they also help by informing visitors about the key points within the section and allow them to navigate to sub-content. The category page is meant to display just the most important or the most recent information in this area of the site.
People can drill down to more detail by clicking on the links to detail pages or to sub-categories if you have those too. So, within categories, there are often several topics. A topic might be ordered around a particular task, such as planning flowers for a wedding, or around a specific product, such as types of lilies. On a smaller site, each link on your category page might go straight to a detail page. Once your site reaches a certain size, you'll most likely end up with sub-category pages for each topic area.
These will normally correspond to submenus on your main navigation structure. Subcategory pages follow a similar layout to category pages with individual detail pages that are linked off from within the text. This way, people can either get a high-level overview using the sub-category page or drill-down to read the nitty-gritty by clicking on a link to a detail page. Detail pages cover only one concept or item. Remember that many users will come to a detail page from Search or a Related Links area. For that reason, detail pages should have a small introduction so that users can orient themselves and understand whether they've reached the right content.
The detail page should focus on its core topic. After reading this content, visitors should have the answers they need and be ready to move on. If other detail pages contain similar information, the page should include these in a Related Links area. This type of page should also make use of Resources links to show downloadable content where it's applicable. Detail pages will not usually have an entry in the main navigation menu. In fact, if you think a detail page needs a menu entry, it's probably a category rather than a detail page.
What this layout gives your visitors is a way to quickly work out what part of your site they need to visit and different levels of information, depending on their needs. If they came in from a search engine, the site's navigation components, like breadcrumbs or related links, will help them to quickly work their way up or down the levels of content to find exactly what they need. Some people might get their questions answered after reading the summary on the category page. That's great. You saved them a whole bunch of time and they'll love you for that. Other people will follow the path from the category page all the way through to an individual detail page because the information they need is very specific.
Next, we'll talk about how to format those detail pages to help people find the specifics that they care about.
User experience expert Chris Nodder teaches
- What people want from websites, how they search for information, how they read online, and how to structure your content to take advantage of this research
- How to use graphics to help rather than hinder visitors, how to integrate video, audio, and other media, and when to consider interactive rather than static content
- How to look at your site's homepage, forms, product pages, and content through the eyes of users to build a site that better meets their needs
- How to balance site content with advertising
There are never enough great interfaces in the world. Take this easy introduction to start making wonderful online experiences for your own users.
- Building a site visitors will like
- Using single, consistent, and standard design principles
- Creating good menus
- Working with site maps
- Adding search to a site
- Arranging content in a layout
- Writing for the web
- Creating category pages and landing pages
- Designing product pages and forms
- Using media and interactive content
- Balancing ads and content