This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.
Where should the navigation be?
Earlier today I wrote about the right position of the previous and next links in blog posts. I wrote that placing these links before the article seems silly to me. Albert de Klein asked me why I think that’s silly. Here’s why.
I think placing anything before an article is silly.
You might have read about the place of the logo, if it’s up to me. Here’s another one. Site wide navigation is a part of a broader collection of links, which we call the footer. We can choose to visually show this navigation at the top of a page if there’s enough room for it, but semantically it’s part of the footer and should be placed at the bottom.
I know many people dislike the menu-link, or hamburger-icon you see on small screens. I love it. I think it’s an excellent pattern that can be used on larger screens too. Technically, it’s a simple skip link. And this skip link is the only thing I think is acceptable before the actual content of a page. Think about it. Is the logo more important than the shoes I want to buy? Are links to other parts of the site more important than the article I chose to read? Really? That probably means your content is not good enough. Fix it.
While you do make some valid points, every site is going to be different, what works for Macy’s may not work for the local thrift store down the street.
Where you place the navigation will vary. The best way to determine “optimal” placement is to test it. You may be able to make a good guess but in the end, the user will determine where the nav should be.
Valid points, but if a user doesnt identify with brand or have a method of navigatiuon that they are used to then they might not buy those shoes… I always think the best way to implement and test an idea on site is to let my mum try it out… If she doesnt get it, then it probably wont work in a real life situation if the clients site is for general users.
@Rob, I always talk in absolutes. But of course you are right. Everything depends. The point I’m trying to make is that the patterns we’re used to are not necessary the best patterns. Rethinking the value of the navigation, and the logo, are good ways to come up with better solutions.
@Matthew Porter, I agree with you that a user has to be able to identify the brand. But a good brand is more than just a logo. A brand should be identifiable by well designed content.
I like your point. However, so much of UX has its foundations in familiarity. It would be easy to feel lost on a page with no immediately visible navigation.
Maybe as mobile browsing gains more and more in popularity, this style of navigation will come to the fore. It may make more sense, but it’s impossible to change the past, and going so radically against the grain won’t work for a lot of clients.
@Nicola, I think we should not be original for originality’s sake. So we shouldn’t create a weird type of navigation *because we’ve never seen it before*. But I don’t think blindly sticking to patterns because people are used to it is a good idea either. Especially when new, better patterns are emerging.
But I’m not saying you should never place a navigation at the top of a page. I’m saying you should think about these patterns, and not follow them automatically.