SansBlogue  
Thursday, September 23, 2004
 
Navigation, usability and conventions ::

Stephen's comment on the post below is interesting. He gives links to some of the main easily accessed research-based discussion of the issues. However, I disagree with him on this, it's not a "religious" issue, it's all about conventions.

One of the pages (from Jakob Neilsen, no less) that Stephen references: "The Need for Web Design Standards" I read as a plea for stronger conventions. Another "When Bad Design Elements Become the Standard" pointed out that although in theory the nav bar would be better on the right, in practice the left was (already in 1999!) conventional for web pages.
Two things that are absolutely clear is that the navigation rail has to have some kind of colored background to set it aside from the content and that it has to be on the left side of the page. There are a few usability reasons why it would have been better to have the navigation rail on the right side of the page:
* Fitts' Law dictates that shorter mouse movements are better: it is always faster to click a target if it is closer to your starting position. Thus, placing the navigation rail next to the scroll bar will usually save users time over placing these two frequently-accessed areas on opposite sides of the window.
* Users always look at the content first when they encounter a new web page, so it would be better if the content started at the left border of the window (for users in cultures that read left-to-right). After the users are done with the content, their gaze could naturally shift to the right to decide where to go next. In contrast, placing the navigation rail to the left requires users to skip over it before they can start scanning the content area.
That convention is probably stronger now than then!

However, for blogs different conventions operate, and right-hand nav bars are relatively common.

The long and the short of it is that Jakob N is right, standards are better kept, and his site is still one of the best sources for discovering what they are! Though good web design books can be a help too!

(Actually as well as usability - JN suggests a potential 1% improvement - the right side is often better for search engine placement - it puts the "content" at the top of the code. But it's still a case where usability wins out, and conventions aid usability.)


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