Navigation in web design refers to the act of designing a system by which the user can identify where they are in a site's hierarchy, what options are available for them to go to, and ideally where they've already been.
Navigation systems are generally broken up into three levels:
- Global Navigation. The "global nav" is most frequently seen as a [menu|ux:Menus] bar across the top of a page with links to the homepage and other major silos of the site. It is accessible (with a few exceptions, like in-transaction pages) on every page in the site.
- Local Navigation. Local navigation refers to being able to navigate within a silo of a site. While Branding and Global Navigation should be consistent across the site, different silos of a site should have a local navigation scheme that makes sense for that silo. There are a number of ways to express local navigation on the site.
- Left navigation bars are local navigation.
- A global navigation menu can have a sub navigation bar that provides high-level local navigation
- Breadcrumbs are a specific kind of local navigation whose primary purpose is to provide a sense of environment and direction.
- Menus can be used as local navigation.
- In-page navigation. In-page navigation refers to being able to move within a page to see information very tightly coupled contextually but which needs to be displayed in separate panels or fields. Examples of in-page navigation include"
Browse vs Search
When users are looking for information, they tend to either browse using the elements above or [ux:Search] using a search box. Which they do depends heavily on how much they know about a topic and what they're more comfortable with.
We'll write more about this topic at a later time, but suffice it to say for now that your audience is never 100% made up of browsers, nor 100% made up of searchers (regardless of your personal preferences) unless a website forces you to pick one or the other (looking at you, Google homepage).
More importantly, if you aren't Google, the Google homepage approach probably isn't for you. Never assume the user's choice is always going to be the search box.
Browse vs Search resources
- Don’t mistake common UI patterns for best practices: A hard look at how the browse experience translates in the digital space- this article sounds like it'll be about how "common" ux patterns and "best practices" are the same thing, but after about the first paragraph it's all about the best ways to design browsing experiences.