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Designing a website

Step 2 - Designing your site

Creating a navigation system

There are many different ways to design a navigation system—tabs, bars, menus, icons, image maps, simple lists—and the solution for your site depends, of course, on the problems you need to solve.


In most cases, you can draw from existing navigation conventions and customize or combine them to meet your needs. A handful of navigation systems are serviceable to the vast majority of sites.


There may, however, be times when you're tempted to design your own system. But remember: Innovation always has a price. Non-standard systems are harder to design and harder for visitors to use. In most cases—and especially if you're not a trained designer—you'll be well served by the established navigational systems.


Remember: Innovation always has a price. Non-standard systems are harder to design, and harder for visitors to use.

"There's a reason left-hand navigation is a convention," says designer Jim Frew. "A lot of people use it. A lot of people understand it. It works. A lot of other, non-conventional interfaces can work equally well. But it takes a lot more diligence to make them work. More work, more skill, and more babysitting on the back-end."


If you decide to design a custom navigation system, it's still helpful to reference conventional systems—so your users will have a head start toward understanding yours.


Whatever you do, don't design a system that people have to "learn"; if a navigation system isn't intuitive, it simply won't be used. "Your job as an interface designer is not to teach people anything," said Cate Corcoran. "They're not there to learn how to use your site."


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