Choosing the right navigation design depends on the unique needs of your website. To make a more informed decision when selecting the best approach, it’s helpful to be aware of the different types and styles of navigation available to you.
In this article, we’ll explore the most common navigation design patterns, including real-life examples of each navigation type.
HorizontalThis is probably the most popular type of navigation and consists of links somewhere along the top of a website, typically along with the company logo. This is a familiar pattern to users, and that familiarity makes it an excellent choice for most sites since it aligns with user expectation of where site navigation will be.
VerticalMany sites opt for a vertical placement for the primary navigation instead. This typically consists of navigation items listed from top to bottom down the side of the page.
SubnavigationIf a website is large enough to warrant sub-navigation, the horizontal and vertical patterns can be carried over to this as well. Sub-navigation can be in the same section as the main navigation or in a different area of the page entirely.
DropdownsDropdown navigation is often used to more easily guide users through page levels. Dropdown menus can deter users from top-level pages and require particular attention on mobile devices, so this navigation pattern should be chosen carefully. They work best on large websites, such as e-commerce sites with a multitude of categories. Dropdown menus with extensive choices and content are commonly referred to as “mega-menus.”
BreadcrumbsBreadcrumb navigation is used to show a user where they are within a website’s structure. This navigation pattern can significantly improve the user experience on websites with multiple page levels.
Fixed/scrolling menuA fixed menu pattern can be helpful for sites with long pages. This consists of a navigation that remains “fixed” to the top of the page when scrolling down. Another popular approach is for the fixed navigation to appear only when a user starts scrolling up the page. This allows users to continue on to other pages at any point while browsing a page without needing to scroll back to the top for the navigation.
Hidden menuIf you’re taking a mobile-first approach to your website, you might consider using a mobile-focused navigation pattern for all devices. For example, hidden navigation that is displayed only when a user clicks to open it is a growing web design trend. This can be an effective design pattern if your users are savvy enough to not be confused by the lack of initial navigation.
No navigationYes, that’s right—some websites skip the main navigation altogether! While this is a rare approach, it can be useful for small websites that aim to focus in on content with minimal distractions for the user.
Creative navigationIf your audience and web strategy allow for it, you can also break away from the traditional navigation patterns and really get creative.
Learn moreHopefully, now you have a better understanding of these popular navigation patterns and what approach will work best for your website. If you’d like to learn more about website navigation, check out the following articles:
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