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Hide and Seek: Web Site Navigation Gone Bad

I have a couple of gripes with some websites. When looking for what I want on a website, it should be easy and obvious. More often than not, though, many sites make it really, really hard to find basic things such as contact info, search, basic content for that matter or even the sale section.

It’s as though most companies fear customer service so much that they make information such as contact info so hard to find in the hopes that people will give up contacting them at all. Perhaps in the design process of their site, they decided that contact information was an unimportant feature that would be fine being buried in a maze of a UI. A lot can go wrong in the making of a site, focus often shifts on a turn of a dime and good design principles go out the window. This leads the design to an island devoid of hierarchy and a population of confused users.

Get me there with navigation

A clean, simple navigation can really make a difference in optimizing usability. It’s important to not underestimate traditional consistency and simplicity. I am NOT a fan of long side navs or tabs as navigation. Sometimes, they can be necessary in some situations, and can be done nicely. But I do not think they should be a substitute for a nice, easy to read, horizontal site navigation.

Another point for navigational items is to make labels obvious and clear. Often, vague or poetic labels are too confusing. If you have a clothing website and need a navigational label to get the user  to your “accessories” section, please don’t bother calling it a synonym of accessories, such as “accents” or “adorn”.

For example, Gwyneth Paltrow’s, uses a set of nav sub labels under her “journal” section. Is that is her blog? I guess so. The categories “go”, “be”, etc. are too vague and I don’t really know what I’m getting into before I click on each section. It is also a bit pretentious. This can easily frustrate a user who just wants to look at a specific section of your site. I get that you may want to add personality, but that can be done in the visual design, branding, or in the rest of your copy writing. Again, simple and clear goes a long way when functionality is of the utmost importance.



Next, let’s take a look NY Times compared to LA Times. This isn’t about geographical rivalry. It’s about their newspaper .coms.

Los Angeles Times has a far superior design. It’s clean, bold and easy to read, utilizing a double stacked nav that they manage to pull off tastefully. The navigation type is large and easy to read, yet it’s very cleanly done. Signing up for a subscription is clear, but not knocking me over the head. Searching for articles based on a clear set of category labels or entering keywords in a search box field can be done right at the top navigation. Scanning the rest of the page you look to the top left at the large “featured” photo and scan left to right and down the page. This is a really effective, traditional way to consume information. So it works well, or at the very least better than NY Times attempts to do, in my opinion.



Just looking at the top third of the NY Times page makes for confusion. Where do I look first? The duo of small rectangular ads saddling the logo? The subscription call out in blue and orange? The social sharing and navigation on the side? Oh, but wait, the tabs at the top of the page offer me some vague categories such as, “Today’s Paper”, “Video” (the clearest of all these tabs), “Most Popular” and what look to be other editions besides the U.S. version. My eye jumps across the five columns and then focuses on the 4 WEEKS 99CENTS ad for a NY times subscription when all I wanted was to get was the latest on the elections. I suppose I’ll just search for it, but I have to jump around again till I find that search box. The search box is oddly tucked into the upper left between the side nav and two ads.



Yes, I’m gonna need to contact you

Customer service, oh customer service. It might just be a business, but things we buy and sites we visit are based on personal senses. Much like in a personal relationship, we have to trust those with whom we do business or spend any of our time with. Customer service is at the forefront of protecting a user’s sense of trust. If you operate a business on any level, especially one in which you take payment for a service or product, things might get weird and I might need to talk to someone. It can be via chat or phone, but don’t leave me with just an email option. That is just rude. We all are aware of what email has become today. If nothing else, it’s a format that does not always go hand in hand with rapid response. I feel like I should get a direct line and get my questions answered quickly.

There are endless amounts of sites that make finding a direct line really difficult. If you go to, one of the largest online retailers in the world mind you, I dare you to find a 1-800 number to contact them. It’s nowhere to be found, not even in their large footer or under help. Pretty incredible, if you ask me, that such a large company fails at such a seemingly simple idea, that of customer service. Being able to connect with the company makes the customer trust you more and that creates a sense of well being that anyone can tell you is good for business.


Keep it clear

Keeping in mind these couple of elements when developing a site will make a difference that, while seemly small at the surface, will make a huge impact deep down for the brand, not just the website. Your content needs to be easy to see, easy to find and east to read. This makes a user feel confident and good about your site and brand. Your services need to be backed up with quality customer service and build a sense of safety and trust with your consumers.  Make your users feel good, safe, and comfortable and you can bet they’ll come back for more.


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  1. Kristopher Starliper says: September 16, 2013

    I like the part about customer service. I designed a website for a client once, and all they wanted was a contact form for the user to fill out and that’s it. No phone number, no office address, no detailed contact page that offered his email so a potential customer could email him later. Nope, just a plain, anonymous contact form. It made no sense to me. He used Amazon’s lack of contact info as a reason why he didn’t think it was important. I tried to explain the difference between being a big corporation vs a small business owner.

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