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UnFundaMental: Left, Right, Top, Bottom? Consider the context for navigation

Compass Collection
So, given recent events, I’ve decided to start a new little category on the blog (something I’ve been trying to resist). I’m calling it UnFundaMental. Yes, I know it is not really a word. This category is my attempt to encourage people to *think* about how they create their user experiences online (and elsewhere, I guess), and to discourage them from taking ‘rules’ and applying them unreflectively. So, it’s against ‘fundamentalism’ in UxD, and there should also be an unsubtle hint towards people who embrace said fundamentalism that I think they are mental (which seemed like a nicer expression than ‘utterly incompetent’).
So, today, let’s talk about navigation. Where should you put it on your page?
Here is the absolutely incontrovertible answer…
It depends.
(Pardon me whilst I channel Christina Wodtke (amongst many other smart people who would say exactly the same)
If you thought that there was a rule book somewhere that would tell you how to do your job, then you’re absolutely out of luck. You need to use your mind, and your experience, and your smarts. You’re going to have to do some research (see what other smart people have done in similar situations), and do some user research.(don’t under-estimate your users, they’re smart)
I *know* that people have probably told you that the left hand side of the page is place that people most expect to find the navigation. Others have probably told you that navigation top of page is the most efficient placement. But, what do you think? Are either of these reasons compelling in your case? Is the site/application/system you’re designing *like* the sites that people are referring to when they’re making these statement?
Loads of blogs now have right navigation (I think that’s why I’ve found myself feeling it to be more and more natural over time). There’s also been an emerging trend for blogs to put their navigation at the bottom of the page [example]. Do you just ignore these trends because they’re not *real* websites? At your peril, you do. (or, unless you really *want* to create utterly uninspired experiences for users by pumping out the same old thing every time and hoping you get a good creative to spice up the visual design so your work looks better than it really is).
It’s not just the evolution of blogging templates that make a RHS nav seem like good sense. Check out the great literature review that the Razorfish (Germany) guys have done in their paper outlining the results they received when testing RHS navigation on the Audi website.
And what did the guys find?
Well, they went in to see whether the accepted view that LHS nav was more efficient than RHS nav was true. They were pretty surprised to find that this didn’t seem to be the case… that RHS nav was also efficient, maybe even more efficient. Sure, people weren’t expecting it at first, but they learned it quickly. And users reported that they enjoyed using the RHS navigation.
So they went ahead an implemented a RHS navigation, and by all reports, it’s been well accepted by users.
It’s important to note that Razorfish didn’t just throw in a RHS navigation for the hell of it. Or for the sake of being different. They had a rationale.
‘A key motivation for this design decision was that a right-hand navigation better reflects core values of the Audi brand: innovation, progressiveness, and individuality. The design goals (creating a usable but unconventional layout) were therefore tied closely with the business goals (reinforcing brand values and distinguishing the site from competitors’ sites).’
Very important. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m advocating a free-for-all, or that we’re allowed to ignore all the findings of the past. Everyone should be able to justify why they choose to design an experience a particular way. My point is that the response ‘because that’s just the way you do it’ shouldn’t cut it as a rationale.
So, you have a project that might benefit from a navigation on the RHS and you need some ammunition to back up your decision to a Usability FundaMentalist? Here’s some stuff I gleaned from the Razorfish paper:
Interestingly, Nielsen (1999) also theorizes that right-justified navigation areas should result in better user tasking and usability. He believes that placing the navigation menu next to the scrollbar will save users time. Additionally, he claims that a right-hand navigation and the main content area on the left should increase the priority of content. Nielsen abandons this logic, however, and goes on to dictate the use of a left-hand navigation: “If we were starting from scratch, we might improve the usability of a site by 1% or so by having a navigation rail on the right rather than on the left. But deviating from the standard would almost certainly impose a much bigger cost in terms of confusion and reduced ability to navigate smoothly” (Nielsen 1999). In other words, the vestigial behavior outweighs the actual efficiency of a right-hand navigation. Nielsen offers no proof of reduced usability with a right-hand navigation, however.
Fitts’ Law: Fitts’ law has been frequently applied to computer interface design (Mackenzie 1992). For all intents and purposes, it simply means that the bigger and closer an item is, the easier it is to click. Position on the screen, then, is a key factor in “ease of click”. In general, shorter mouse movements are better according to Fitts’ law. Therefore, locating the main navigation menu next to the scrollbar on the right side of a Web page should indeed reduce the time required to alternate between the two.
Constantine & Lockwood (2002): You can confidently make novel use of many standard, well-established controls, visual elements and interaction idioms provided that new functions and behaviors are consistent and logical extensions of the old…Significant improvements in the user experience often require creative departures from standards and accepted practice. However, useful innovation in visual and interaction design should not burden the new user with a long and frustrating learning process”
Need a couple of sample RHS Navigation sites to further prove your point. Try these on for size:
Ok. Let’s talk.
  • Anyone out there disagree and think that RHS navigation is the devil’s spawn?
  • Anyone got some other good example sites or literature to back up RHS (or maybe bottom?!) navigation systems?
  • Anyone got another FundaMental Belief that needs tearing apart?
Go crazy.
Image Credit: Chauss513 @ Flickr

User Experience & Cognitive Pleasures (there’s easy, and then there’s *experience*)

Jenga

User experience and usability are two different things. And usability does not always imply a system or interface that does not require any learning, or any enquiry, or any challenge on the part of the user.

I constantly find myself trying to walk a balance between using ‘convention’ where it is most appropriate, but also looking for ways that we can look to use new forms of interaction to solve user experience problems. I can’t understand how people who do IA and UxD can find their work fulfilling if they are constantly wheeling out the same old solutions to problems that they face on their projects.

I don’t understand how we expect our profession to develop, how we are going to create *better* user experiences if we are not always testing new approaches, giving new solutions the opportunity to prove that they are feasable, efficient, ergonomic and pleasurable, rather than ruling them out wholesale because there’s nothing in a textbook to say that the approach is ok.

‘ooh, that’s innovation for innovation’s sake’, I hear from these people who are overly besotted with convention. Well no. It’s innovation so that I can continue to do *better* work, and so I don’t become an automaton. ‘show me the research that says your approach works’. Well, there is none.. yet. Let’s do some! ‘Tags, schmags. That’s fine for Flickr, but we’re not Flickr’. It’s difficult to argue with someone as obtuse and uninterested as that.

If you’re any good at your work and if you’ve been doing this UxD stuff for a while now, then you *can* almost do it in your sleep… if you’re content with taking an uninspired and boring approach to your work. Is that very respectful of your users?

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Pattern Driven Usability (opportunities and challenges)

Certified

There’s been quite a bit of talk, on and off, around developing a library of patterns that interface designers could use that would mean that technology would become a whole lot more consistent and usable. So I was interested to discover that XPDesign, the methodology that PTG Global have been talking up for a while now, is essentially a part of this whole discussion.

PTG have been in the press a bit lately since they’ve launched their ‘certified usable‘ product.

The Certified Usable Guarantee: We guarantee that, on average, 90% of users can complete 90% of tasks with minimal assistance, within a reasonable time, without error, and with at least 80% satisfaction (based on a random sample of at least 300 end users using a Certified Usable™ technology product).

Craig Errey of PTG presented some of the fundamentals of XPDesign at the NSW CHISIG gathering last night. At the very least he should be congratulated for stimulating probably one of the most engaging debates around HCI methods that I’ve been a part of for quite a while.

The last one was probably back at OZCHI conference, where another PTG representative presented their work on the Citibank Mobile Banking interface and surprised many of us by stating that PTG didn’t need to iterate in their design process because they *knew* what worked and what didn’t. (Obviously, given that mobile banking is a pretty new application on a reasonably new device with many special complexities, many in the audience found this difficult to believe!)

Craig started his talk by asserting that ‘nothing particularly interesting has happened in HCI for the last 10-15yrs’. Big call. I guess that depends a lot on what you consider interesting, he then went on to challenge people to answer two questions: what is usability? and how do you make something usable?
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tag cloud interface for list selection (hello Jobby!)

GoJobbyTagCloudInterface

Via TechCrunch today I came across a new beta site – Jobby. This is a site that allows you to upload your resume and create a bit of a personal profile (if you’re hunting down work), or if you’re a potential employer, to search for suitable talent.

There’s nothing particularly special about that but – as Michael Arrington points out – the interface is worth a second look, if you’re into that kind of thing. Michael says:

The interface is exceptional and you don’t have to do more than click a couple of times on a tag cloud to set up tags. You’ll have to try it to fully understand how it works.

I think that might be a *bit* of an overstatement, but it certainly is a *very* efficient implementation of the ‘tag cloud’ as a interaction device, in this case, for creating lists.

Ajaxian is similarly impressed and says that Jobby:

combines a solid combination of interface and functionality to create an easy to use kind of user experience

The interface designers at Jobby do need to be congratulated for taking a new ‘web 2.0′ interaction concept that has been poorly implemented in so many places, and applying it in a new environment where it solves old interaction design problems. So, let’s check it out…

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