How do users really interact with site headers/footers/global nav?

16 Aug 2011 - 2:47pm
3 years ago
6 replies
1460 reads
AndrewHInton
2007

I'm looking for some helpful research/analysis on how users interact (or don't) with website headers/footers/global navs. 
I suspect the following: 1. that most organizations over-emphasize what these areas of the interface are doing for them -- and many many hours are spent arguing over and rethinking these red-herrings when it's not where the focus should be.  2. Users are scanning for trigger words (or maybe images) that "smell good" info-scent-wise, and keep moving from there, and only look to the 'chrome' when they have to, if then. 3. If anything, the header/global nav (if you use one) might help establish a basic mental model for the site's main categories of activity and/or content, but only if it's kept simple w/ clearly distinguished semantics. 
But this is just based on personal experience and a vague memory of articles/research I've encountered in the past. I'd like some ammunition from the field that either validates or disproves my assumptions (and I'm always happy to be wrong, as long as the alternative is actually, um, right ;-) 
So ... any suggestions? 




--
andrew hinton / andrewhinton.com


Comments

16 Aug 2011 - 7:05pm
Stephen Perry
2009

Interesting. Let's talk. Funny you bring that up. I've recently experienced some revelations in that area from project scenarios.
Not sure what suggestions you need, but even the whole "trigger word" thing seems to be based on search more than navigation. That being said, people have very strong needs for meaningful, clear, simple taxonomy and navigation. (a somewhat subjective thing) But recent work on Deloitte was revealing there. I can explain when you have time.
Also, at AEA I was very struck by the success rates of users using navigation vs using search. A stat that @jmspool showed. It surprised me.
I think there are some universal labels and metaphors and some very contextual ones, both of which can have value in header and/or main nav constructs. But these can be subjective as well. Interesting examples: kids get folders right away, but don't know what desktops are. We still use floppy disk icons to equal save. (which fucks me up every time!)
Let me tell you about Deloitte taxonomy/nav work soon. It's been interesting. I felt I might be too attached to categorical hierarchy, but testing is showing otherwise, now that I've been steered towards topical triggers.
Also The "chrome" depends on simplicity if you mean the header nav and subnav. The main nav all but disappears and the breadcrumb becomes the chrome in a complex polyheirarchy. Depends on how deeply the nav can support visual identifiers.
Wow! Too much to talk about in an email! Lol. Interesting topic.
(Footers not so much, tho the whole fat-footer thing is still useful and even contextual when done right.) 
That was all over the place... Let's talk. Other examples from NCR. But mine are mostly intranet.
-Steve


Sent from my iPhone
On Aug 16, 2011, at 7:06 PM, Andrew Hinton <inkblurt@gmail.com> wrote:

I'm looking for some helpful research/analysis on how users interact (or don't) with website headers/footers/global navs. 
I suspect the following: 1. that most organizations over-emphasize what these areas of the interface are doing for them -- and many many hours are spent arguing over and rethinking these red-herrings when it's not where the focus should be. 
2. Users are scanning for trigger words (or maybe images) that "smell good" info-scent-wise, and keep moving from there, and only look to the 'chrome' when they have to, if then. 3. If anything, the header/global nav (if you use one) might help establish a basic mental model for the site's main categories of activity and/or content, but only if it's kept simple w/ clearly distinguished semantics. 
But this is just based on personal experience and a vague memory of articles/research I've encountered in the past. I'd like some ammunition from the field that either validates or disproves my assumptions (and I'm always happy to be wrong, as long as the alternative is actually, um, right ;-) 
So ... any suggestions? 

--
andrew hinton / andrewhinton.com [1]


17 Aug 2011 - 9:05am
Dan Klyn
2010

Also, at AEA I was very struck by the success rates of users using navigation vs using search. A stat that @jmspool showed. It surprised me. Stephen (or Jared): do you recall the stat? Andrew: excellent thread :)

16 Aug 2011 - 7:05pm
Stephen Perry
2009

You are right about #3 in web. But I think that fixed reality is important. Like landmarks on the road.

And also remember things get waaay more focused in mobile. The "chrome" tends to become the experience at first and gets even more narrowly pathed as you interact and make choices.

Sent from my iPhone

On Aug 16, 2011, at 7:06 PM, Andrew Hinton wrote:

> I'm looking for some helpful research/analysis on how users interact (or don't) with website headers/footers/global navs. > I suspect the following: 1. that most organizations over-emphasize what these areas of the interface are doing for them -- and many many hours are spent arguing over and rethinking these red-herrings when it's not where the focus should be. > 2. Users are scanning for trigger words (or maybe images) that "smell good" info-scent-wise, and keep moving from there, and only look to the 'chrome' when they have to, if then. 3. If anything, the header/global nav (if you use one) might help establish a basic mental model for the site's main categories of activity and/or content, but only if it's kept simple w/ clearly distinguished semantics. > But this is just based on personal experience and a vague memory of articles/research I've encountered in the past. I'd like some ammunition from the field that either validates or disproves my assumptions (and I'm always happy to be wrong, as long as the alternative is actually, um, right ;-) > So ... any suggestions? > > -- > andrew hinton / andrewhinton.com [1] > > >

17 Aug 2011 - 10:09am
Jared M. Spool
2003

Hi Andrew,

You're theories are correct, from our research at UIE.

For the most part, users don't distinguish a site's structural navigation from other links on the page, even when it's a site they use very frequently, like an intranet. They don't have notions for headers, footers, or other structural elements. These are designer concepts which users don't really attend to. 

In essence, there are (1) links that are clear what they go to, (2) links that are iffy, and (3) links that make no sense. That's basically how users tend to break of the navigation on the page. They are pretty good at finding (1) and ignoring (3). (2) causes stress and frustration with users. 

There is no evidence that users ever create a basic mental model of a site. In innumberable experiments we've done, we've asked users to draw how they think sites are structured. In some cases we've asked them to do it repeatedly through a heavy session of use. In no cases did we see users ever form either a correct or incorrect, yet consistent model of the organization of the site. We can't find any evidence that they use the headers or footers to build a model.

I'd be happy to elaborate on any particulars, if you'd like.

Jared

User Interface Engineering, http://www.uie.com/brainsparks

p.s. Really hating how this site mangles the formatting of emails. Are there really no resources to improve this experience?

17 Aug 2011 - 11:11am
AndrewHInton
2007

Thanks, Jared. 

So it sounds like people *do* look at headers, but only as part of the whole screen; they don't think of them as "the important links" -- the important links are the ones they notice anywhere in view that are also relevant to their needs in the moment. Do I have that right? 

A follow-up: 

The convention of most sites is that the header and footer are consistent throughout the site -- so they carry their subset of links & info with them, all the time. Even if, in any given view, users don't prioritize header/footer -- functionally they're being prioritized by being more available than other links.  Seems to me this could mean several different things, and I'm not sure which is true: 

  1. Users see these links/info following them around and think "hey this must be really important stuff! I will pay a lot of attention to it!"   OR ... 
  2. Users see these links/info following them around and pretty quickly start ignoring them ("I already saw that, no need to scan it again") so that, even if they're in a situation where they might now *need* something in header or footer, they're missing the chance to engage with it. 

I ask because often business-priority information (sign up for our emails! check out our new credit card offer! go *here* if you're a distributor!) gets crammed into the header, especially, and I suspect this is working against business goals: users are interested in such items when they are looking for them (or when they're relevant to their current task).  Is that accurate? 

Seems to me the items people need present throughout a site, if any, are: 

  1. something establishing basic location context -- framing "you're still on the site of company x / store y / person z  or whatever"
  2. something establishing basic access context -- you're logged in or not; you're logged in as "Role N" vs "Role O"
  3. escape hatches: "home" link to basically "reset" and start over; and a search function, because either a) I didn't see what I needed in a trigger word, so I'm going to "ask" the site my trigger word, or b) I've learned I'm better off just searching to begin with, especially on "sites like this"
  4. shortcuts to major areas that you may need to move between wherever you are on the site (e.g. Manage your account; Add/manage contacts; Upload/organize pictures) which get broken up into site-navigation of some kind (sometimes utility nav vs 'global' nav etc)
Basically, stuff you might need through a whole site visit, regardless of particular context you may be in ...  everything *else* seems like it would just be a distraction, and encourage users to ignore that area even more ... again, does this sound accurate to you? 

 

 

 

17 Aug 2011 - 6:05pm
lgruenberg
2010

In Nielsen & Pernice's 2009 book, Eyetracking Web Usability, their studies showed that users looked at the utility links in the header 9% of the time and the utility links in the footer 4% of the time—clearly neither of these is the location to stash promotional stuff that you want users to notice and act on. Left side vertical navigation is viewed by 49% and top horizontal sub-navigation by 54% of users, while 58% of users look for their shopping cart in the upper-right quadrant, and 56% look there for the search box. I was fascinated to read the results of their studies. Its always helpful to get additional corroboration for patterns we observed during our low tech (no cameras or eye-tracking) in-person testing. We have over and over again observed people skipping over anything they consider an ad on our site, including our ALA Suggestions (Google Search Appliance key matches, that show up at the top of our search results list).

Louise Gruenberg, MAE, MSLIS

Syndicate content Get the feed