Over the past few years, Nyman Ink has switched its focus from print to web design. We still do plenty of print and are still major advocates of print media, but more clients seem to come to us with digital requests than print requests, and we've adapted to accommodate them (and you).
And with the wonderful world of websites, comes the many failings of website design. Well, not failings, per say, but rather, difficulties.
Navigation blindness is just one of those difficulties.
The phrase navigation blindness refers to a common occurance in the modern works of web browsing. It describes a situation where the user fails to see and/or use the navigational tools (such as buttons, bars, etc.) provided by a site's web designer, and therefore, fails to experience the website in the manner the designers (and the owner organization) hoped and intended.
Navigation blindness is the result of a lot of different things. In some cases, it's about bad design. The navigational tools just aren't clear enough or well-designed enough to tantalize the average user. In other cases, navigation blindness may come as a result of boredom on the part of the user. So many of us use the internet so often that we fail to see certain things about certain web pages. We tune in only to what we're familiar with, only to what we instinctly understand, only to the things that really stand out.
Web designers (like the ones here at Nyman Ink) struggle to combat this blindness with every site they design.
If you've noticed that your site's visitors aren't using your website in the way you'd hoped or imagined, navigation blindness may be the culprit. But don't worry, that doesn't mean you have to redesign your entire site. To rectify the problem, the best thing to do is to work to better understand how the average internet user behaves, and to cater to those tendencies.
I've found a great resource to help you with this. It's an article on navigation blindness published several years ago by the now-defunct GUUUI (don't ask me what the letters stand for, but the site was called "the Interaction Designer's Coffee Break"). While the article is several years old, it still contains highly useful information. You can click through to the original piece, but here are five helpful highlights and excerpts:
- When users come to a site, they have something specific in mind. They come for a reason. This reason might be exact, such as buying a Canon IXUS 40, or vague, such as finding a gift for a family member. But there is always a reason, and people are typically so fixated on accomplishing their goals, that they ignore everything that doesn't appear to be relevant to their current task.
- Top menus, left menus and breadcrumbs that are placed throughout the website are at best ignored - at worst distracting.
- There is no need to link to all sections from each and every page on a site. We should limit pervasive navigation to five or six basic features and let people go back to the front page, if they want to start from the top.
- All websites should be designed to cater to "click-link-or-hit-back-button" behaviour.
- Users CAN be inspired to explore other areas of your website and other options, but they can only be "seduced" away form their original quest after they have accomplished some or their entire goal.
This is all very interesting stuff. But what does it mean to you, as a not-for-profit or business looking to improve your website? It means you need to think about the goals that average users might have in mind when they visit your site. And you need to facilitate those goals. More than consistency, more than content, more than the good your organization does, nothing will do more to make your website work effectively than catering to the average user, and fighting the good fight against navigation blindness.
With this in mind, check out your site. Try to bring a fresh pair of eyes to it. What might you do differently?