Right or Left SideBar for a browser based application

21 Jul 2006 - 10:01am
8 years ago
12 replies
920 reads
Suresh JV
2004

Hi All,

Is there a fresh/conclusive evidence about the placement of
secondary/contextual navigation on the right side of the screen? Will it
make a difference? I notice that most of the web 2.0 apps place them on the
right side and Vista/Office 12 is also moving towards the same direction,
but....!!

I read this report, but I feel it may be dated and users expectation may be
changing or being changed. [http://jodi.tamu.edu/Articles/v04/i01/Kalbach/]
And Audi currently has a right nav bar and someone mentioned that Dell moved
away from left navigation.

What does the group feel about it. I need to convince my people.

--
Thanks,
Suresh.

-----------------------------------------------
Logic takes you from A to B.
Creativity takes you everywhere.
-----------------------------------------------

Comments

21 Jul 2006 - 10:14am
John Grøtting
2006

Hi Suresh,

when my team was working on the Audio website design, there was great
controversy over the notion of putting the navigation on the right-
hand side. One on side, Audi really wanted to differentiate their
website from others. But, on the other side, they hadn't seen many
other websites do this. So, "if nobody else is doing it, it must not
work" was the logic.

As it turns out, we did user testing and offered the sub-navigation
on both sides of the page. The results were that the user didn't care
at all. The hierarchy was completely clear. More importantly, we
learned that the levels of navigation needed to be in as few places
as possible. What do I mean? We often hear of the inverted "L" as the
standard model for website navigation as being the most successful
pattern out there. In reality, there are several models, but not very
many have been tried or tested. If we have one layer of navigation on
the top and the second layer of navigation run down the side in a
list, then that was fine. If we then introduced tabs into the page,
then it was an overload. User preference is for flatter, wider
navigation. Deep navigation, as lots of other research has shown, is
what is really difficult for users.

John Grøtting

Grøtting + Sauter
Barnerstr. 14B
22765 Hamburg
Germany

Tel +49.40.398.34342
SkypeIn +1.818.574.8440
Fax +49.40.398.34340
Mobile +49.172.4246.976
www.g-s.de
g at g-s.de

Am 21.07.2006 um 17:01 schrieb Suresh JV:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Hi All,
>
> Is there a fresh/conclusive evidence about the placement of
> secondary/contextual navigation on the right side of the screen?
> Will it
> make a difference? I notice that most of the web 2.0 apps place
> them on the
> right side and Vista/Office 12 is also moving towards the same
> direction,
> but....!!
>
> I read this report, but I feel it may be dated and users
> expectation may be
> changing or being changed. [http://jodi.tamu.edu/Articles/v04/i01/
> Kalbach/]
> And Audi currently has a right nav bar and someone mentioned that
> Dell moved
> away from left navigation.
>
> What does the group feel about it. I need to convince my people.
>
> --
> Thanks,
> Suresh.
>
> -----------------------------------------------
> Logic takes you from A to B.
> Creativity takes you everywhere.
> -----------------------------------------------
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21 Jul 2006 - 10:44am
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> As it turns out, we did user testing and offered the sub-navigation
> on both sides of the page. The results were that the user didn't care
> at all.

I can second this.

My only remote disagreement, based entirely on a hunch and not because I've
actively investigated this, is that right-handed mouse users, which dominate
the world, tend to rest their pointer on the right side of the screen. When
this is the case, Fitts' Law tells us the best spot for navigation is on the
right.

Studies have shown users have no preference and it has no effect on
usability. Maybe someday I'll prove out my hunch, but I don't believe it
will make any difference either way. In fact, I'm in the middle of
redesigning my personal site now and the navigation is going on the left. Go
figure.

-r-

21 Jul 2006 - 11:00am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Jul 21, 2006, at 11:44 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> My only remote disagreement, based entirely on a hunch and not
> because I've
> actively investigated this, is that right-handed mouse users, which
> dominate
> the world, tend to rest their pointer on the right side of the screen.

I'd be surprised if that were the case. I would guess most users
don't "return" the mouse to any particular location at the end of an
action. My mouse typically stays at the last interaction point.
However, I've never ready a study that included observations on such
behavior.

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.690.2360 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

I am in search of the
simple elegant seductive
maybe even obvious IDEA.
With this in my pocket
I cannot fail.

- Tibor Kalman

21 Jul 2006 - 11:13am
Bernie Monette
2005

> From: Suresh JV <cre8tvt at gmail.com>
> Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 20:31:19 +0530
> To: <discuss at ixda.org>
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Right or Left SideBar for a browser based application
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Hi All,
>
> Is there a fresh/conclusive evidence about the placement of
> secondary/contextual navigation on the right side of the screen? Will it
> make a difference? I notice that most of the web 2.0 apps place them on the
> right side and Vista/Office 12 is also moving towards the same direction,
> but....!!
>
> I read this report, but I feel it may be dated and users expectation may be
> changing or being changed. [http://jodi.tamu.edu/Articles/v04/i01/Kalbach/]
> And Audi currently has a right nav bar and someone mentioned that Dell moved
> away from left navigation.
>
> What does the group feel about it. I need to convince my people.
>
> --
> Thanks,
> Suresh.
Although somewhat older, this research at SURL,
http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/3W/web_object.htm
Has always struck me as good. Basically, it is a comparison study between
new and experienced users and where web object, such as navigation, should
be. For your question: the left hand side seems to have been the preference
for this group.

Cheers,

Bernie

--
Bernie Monette
InterActive Arts
Internet Presence Management
http://www.iaai.ca monette at iaai.ca 416 469 4337

21 Jul 2006 - 12:42pm
Susan Farrell
2004

The main dangers of right-hand nav are that users might not notice it
and that they might not see it.

I've run user tests in which people ignored everything on the right
side of pages, including secondary navigation items. I believe that
this happened because there were also ads on the right side and
things in boxes that looked like they might be ads. Because so many
sites have standardized on ads in the right column, I think it is
important to avoid such advertising placement if you have something
on the right that you want to make sure people notice, especially on
visually crowded sites.

The main reason navigation has standardized to be on the top and left
is that those are the two sides of the browser window that are
visible at most window sizes. So if you put nav on the right instead,
it's necessary to ensure it will be onscreen, for example by using a
liquid or elastic layout that accommodates a range of window widths.

The alternative is to enforce a fixed window size, which is bad for
device accessibility and irritates a lot of people by taking
window-size control away from them. (For a small-window wizard on a
constrained target platform, flexibility might not be so crucial,
however.)

I've also noticed that the background color of navigation areas can
make a huge difference in how noticeable they are, so it's a good
idea to user test some alternatives until you find the color that
works best for your design and palette. Pastel yellow and pastel blue
have tested well for me a number of times, but there are likely many
other good colors out there I have not tried.

Susan

21 Jul 2006 - 2:51pm
dmitryn
2004

> Although somewhat older, this research at SURL,
> http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/3W/web_object.htm
> Has always struck me as good. Basically, it is a comparison study between
> new and experienced users and where web object, such as navigation, should
> be. For your question: the left hand side seems to have been the preference
> for this group.

The SURL group has recently published a followup study to this one:

http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/81/webobjects.htm

I have blogged about the study's limitations here:

http://www.smallmultiples.com/2006/02/27/where-the-page-elements-are/

In essence, it seems that user expectations have not changed much
since the 2001 study, but there are a number of caveats about the way
the study was conducted (most obviously that the participants were
asked to lay out the elements on a basic informational site) that
limit how its results can be interpreted.

Dmitry

21 Jul 2006 - 3:10pm
Suresh JV
2004

One thing I implicitly mentioned here was that ours is not an ecommerce web
app. But a serious [!] browser based application typically run in a
corporate environment without an Internet connection. There will not any ads
or other usual distractions. Also, the nav bar will only be hidden if the
window size is sub 800px.

My take is that it will also be easier to print key content and allow for
possible cut off of nav bar in printing.

Any ideas why Microsoft is trying to change users expectations/behaviour?
[Office XP opens right side bar to access recent files and thesaurus. Office
12 provides buttons to print or annotate options among other things]

--
Regards,
Suresh JV.

-----------------------------------------------
Logic takes you from A to B.
Creativity takes you everywhere.
-----------------------------------------------

21 Jul 2006 - 3:17pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Jul 21, 2006, at 1:42 PM, Susan Farrell wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> The main dangers of right-hand nav are that users might not notice
> it and that they might not see it.

We've found this is highly dependent on context. For web-based
applications, it's less likely than something like NYTimes.com. I
think the key, however, is something you mention below - if it's
accompanied by ads, then they're more likely to ignore it (at least
this mimics our experience). We've even seen this with sites that use
graphics for navigation w/in the context of the body/content area -
customers avoided the graphic navigation, because they thought they
were ads.

Either way, consistency and predictability w/in the environment is
key. So, if you're going to use right column navigation, then stick
to it throughout - don't go switching it around.

> I've run user tests in which people ignored everything on the right
> side of pages, including secondary navigation items. I believe that
> this happened because there were also ads on the right side and
> things in boxes that looked like they might be ads. Because so many
> sites have standardized on ads in the right column, I think it is
> important to avoid such advertising placement if you have something
> on the right that you want to make sure people notice, especially
> on visually crowded sites.

We took this exact approach in a recent redesign for a client. They
were showcasing their products in the left and right columns and not
getting throughput. So, we recommended using the footer space more
effectively. Products for their advertising partners took the typical
right column spots, whereas promos for their products (the client)
were reserved for a "premium" space in the footer. There were several
variables that led to this decision, but it generated considerably
more traction in testing than their previous model.

> The main reason navigation has standardized to be on the top and
> left is that those are the two sides of the browser window that are
> visible at most window sizes. [...]
>
> The alternative is to enforce a fixed window size, which is bad for
> device accessibility and irritates a lot of people by taking
> window-size control away from them. (For a small-window wizard on a
> constrained target platform, flexibility might not be so crucial,
> however.)

Which is why we typically recommend a compromise - fixed width,
centered. This provides improved usability by allowing more control
over line-length, but satisfies the desire to have "the content fill
my window."

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
Partner, Design & Usability Specialist
Messagefirst | designing and usability consulting
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (607) 339-9640
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

21 Jul 2006 - 3:49pm
cfmdesigns
2004

To my way of thinking, the location of the navigation bar (and other page elements) should be informed by the use and content of the pages. Western audiences follow the top-left to bottom-right reading model.

If the bulk of the user's interactions will be in navigation -- such as wending your way through a site to find printer drivers and such -- then the navigation is "most important" and should be in the part of the window where users will look first (upper left). Put it on the right and users have to "read" (scan across) the width of the window nwith each page in order to get to the nav controls again.

But if the use is going to be largely content perusal -- reading, etc. -- then the important stuff is the content, and having where the user will be spending the bulk of his focus time is the right thing to do.

Linked in with this, of course, is what other content is present. Someone mentioned the bad idea of mixing nav and ads on the same side of the screen, and I would agree with that. Give nav, ads, and content on-screen at once (like with an online newspaper) putting the content in the middle and the nav on the left would fit best in the above model.

-- Jim Drew
Seattle, WA

21 Jul 2006 - 7:15pm
Donna Maurer
2003

For a presentation I did recently, I took screen capture videos of
myself using a bunch of sites. I later noticed that I pull my mouse back
to the right *all the time* when waiting for something to happen. I've
never bothered to look for this with other people, but it was very clear
on my own videos ;)

Donna

Jack Moffett wrote:
> I'd be surprised if that were the case. I would guess most users
> don't "return" the mouse to any particular location at the end of an
> action. My mouse typically stays at the last interaction point.
> However, I've never ready a study that included observations on such
> behavior.
>
> Jack
>
>

21 Jul 2006 - 7:48pm
Becubed
2004

On 21-Jul-06, at 8:15 PM, Donna Maurer wrote:
> For a presentation I did recently, I took screen capture videos of
> myself using a bunch of sites. I later noticed that I pull my mouse
> back
> to the right *all the time* when waiting for something to happen.

Fascinating. You prompted me to consider my own behavior . . . and lo
and behold, I do the same thing.

Here's my theory: this behavior exploits muscle memory to more
quickly navigate with the mouse. When "at rest", I keep the cursor at
the right-hand edge of the screen, more or less centered; this is my
hand's most fully-relaxed position. I can navigate by feel to most
other locations, but it's uncomfortable to stay there without
physically repositioning my hand and forearm, so I flip back quickly
to the at-rest position.

Note that I drive with two monitors when at the office, so my at-rest
position places me squarely in the middle of both screens. If I was
limited to one monitor, perhaps I'd choose a left-hand-side at-rest
position...

Gotta love these little discoveries. Kinda reminds me of McLuhan's
remark that "I don't know who discovered water, but I'm pretty sure
it wasn't a fish." Heh.

--
Robert Barlow-Busch
Practice Director, Interaction Design
Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
(519) 570-2020

22 Jul 2006 - 10:30am
Bryan J Busch
2006

> One thing I implicitly mentioned here was that ours is not an
> ecommerce web
> app. But a serious [!] browser based application typically run in a
> corporate environment without an Internet connection. There will
> not any ads
> or other usual distractions. Also, the nav bar will only be hidden
> if the
> window size is sub 800px.
>
> My take is that it will also be easier to print key content and
> allow for
> possible cut off of nav bar in printing.

Presuming your group hasn't standardized on an extremely old browser,
your concern over ease of printing is easily removed by hiding the
display of the nav bar in the print stylesheet. I'd also recommend
hiding most of the branding and background colors / images, going
full-width on the content area and you might also consider switching
to a serif font, which tend to be easier to read on paper.

Bryan J Busch
play: http://theynow.com
work: http://geniant.com

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