Learners do no feel they have control over their experiences with
linear navigation. At times, this is comforting (don't have to think
either!), but often it can also be confining and even intolerable.
If you use linear navigation for some or all of a product, provide
a constant "escape hatch," or way out for anyone who doesn't
want to finish but doesn't want to back all the way up either. Sometimes
just knowing there is a way out makes people more comfortable with
the linear experience.
The second major support you can give learners in a linear navigation
situation is to let them know how much more of the experience there
is left to go. "Screen 5/6" tells me I'm almost done,
whereas "screen 12/180" lets me know I should try to relax
because there's a long way to go.
Pure out/in structures can induce a kind of motion-sickness in
learners who constantly have to click back to the main location
in order to see the next display of interest, or to check that they
have, indeed, followed all the short little paths that are open.
In addition, out/in structures are difficult to print or to check
for currency and editorial problems. Since the content is so "chopped
up," an out/in structure can be a real maintenance problem
if it is not created as a database or templated system.
If you're using an out/in structure, be sure there is only one
navigation choice on each "out" display -- the one for
"in."Also, consider bring each "out" display
to the learner in a window that sits on top of, but does not totally
obscure the "in" window below. This enhances the feeling
of stability, as if the content were coming to the learner instead
of the other way around...
||In a pure hierarchy, learners will wear themselves out "running
back and forth" -- up one leg of the hierarchy and down the other.
It is tempting to make them do it too, because solutions for the problem
inevitably bring messy questions with them -- "There would have
to be 45 links on every page for people to go directly from one to
another -- we can't do that, can we?" Possibly you could, but
probably you will have to compromise between making the hierarchy
clean and clear, and making the navigation of it efficient. Very often
you can get the furthest toward a solution by examining your content
-- does the hierarchy you have really need to be so deep? complex?
Perhaps it does not.
||In a simultaneous access structure, learners probably need some
kind of a map. It might be a "big list" of links accessible
from every page so that learners can check it periodically or use
it to move through the site. It might be an actual map or diagrammatic
representation of the site. Without such a navigational aid, the underlying
structure of the site may seem to the learners to be no structure
at all. When there are no paths, only those learners capable of forming
an independent mental image of the structure will be able to navigate
||Lost in hyperspace -- or, actually, in someone else's brain. Unless
your learners set out to have a confusing and disjointed experience
in which the value lies mainly in serendipity, pure web structures
are just a problem. You might be teaching your learners to
unravel the way in which you conceive of a topic and then use that
information to build their own mental models. If you are not, leave
the pure web structures to experimental applications and entertainment/literary
products in which the journey is the reward.
Mixed navigation is the norm, and it should be. Different parts
of an experience often call for different underlying structures.
Be sure that you keep track of which structures you are using and
The most common mistake to make in a mixed structure is to provide
linear feedback along with nonlinear - for the same pages. If you
have linear segments of content and they use linear navigation -
great! But don't give people next/previous buttons to navigate through
pages that are also accessible through a menu somewhere else unless
you stop the linear navigation at the points where topics change
on the menu. Otherwise, your audience will "next" their
way right through your whole menu without knowing they have crossed
topic boundaries, or get very confused because what comes "next"
may have no real logic behind it except that it was next on a list
that the user can't even see.
|Big and little navigation
Think of your navigation in terms of physical space -- some movements
are bigger than others, right? Getting up and leaving a room is
different than moving from one chair to another and settling back
down to read. Likewise, making a U-turn to try and find the road
to the mall is different than walking one block from here and turning
Once you have planned a structure and the movements that it will
require, group those into "bigger" and "littler"
navigation movements together. The forms you design to represent
or accomplish these different kinds of movements should be grouped
together on your displays -- big with big and little with little.
You can make finer distinctions and more groupings if you want to,
but this is the place to start. This step alone will prevent a good
number of problems with representing navigation.
Krug, S. (2000).
Don't make me think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Indianapolis,
Nielsen, J. (1999). Designing
Web Usability : The Practice of Simplicity. Indianapolis, IN: New
Each of these books is relatively new. Both of them address
themselves to the web, but either of them is a perfectly valid source
for practical advice on usability issues and design that supports ease-of-use.
Neither one is cheap, so make your choice based on time -- Krug's book
is shorter and uses more graphical methods to explain the text; Nielsen's
also uses a lot of screen examples, but is a denser text that will take
you longer to read.
Experienced designers give identical advice time and time again -- begin
designing navigation on paper, not on the screen!
It is so tempting to think that we can keep the whole structure of what
we're building in our heads. Some people can, but that doesn't mean it's
the right way to design. So, what does working on paper do for the designer?
- forces you to think about the structure in concrete terms ... what
should go where, and how should everything be linked?
- allows you to create categories, or levels, or whatever is appropriate
and then be consistent about applying them -- in your head it is too
easy to get confused, even with your own system!
- allows you to show your conceptual structure to others for the purposes
of formative evaluation -- an important part of all design processes.
- lets you work quickly and make changes without too much trouble --
without having to change all the electronic pages you have already built.
Some web design tools allow you to set up your site structure before
you create web pages or style sheets -- it's the same idea as beginning
on paper. You need to start by looking at the whole structure.
Once you have the structure mapped out, create a "blueprint"
that shows what the major sections of your screen are going to be -- this
is the sketch or storyboard that you hand in as an interim deliverable.
In this sketch you plan where the screen titles, navigation elements,
text, and other parts of the display are going to go. Use it as your own
template and stick to it ... people should be concentrating on what you're
trying to teach them -- not on the amazing variation in your screen layouts!
Designers, novice and experienced designers alike, come in two primary
flavors -- the conservative and the exuberant.
|Types of designers and their potential strengths
avoids some of the bad mistakes brought on by overdoing
learns to use a few techniques really well instead
of many techniques poorly
creates elegant, usable design
may create design systems that endure through time
and allow others to create credible work with less ability
can discover more, faster than most others do
gets mistakes out of the way early
creates lively, engaging design
provides true support for representing information
in the best way for each context
|Types of designers and the pitfalls they encounter
creates boring design
falls prey to design paralysis -- "I can't
do that -- oops, better not try that ..."
creates repetitive design; lifeless design -- "grindware"
instead of "mindware" -- the best test for this stuff
is to find out if the designer would ever use it
||may create circus design -- loud,
distracting, not always entertaining for the right reasons and liable
to leave you with a stomachache
creates privileged design - boutique products
or worse, creates products that have great opening
screens and fabulous menu bars but either do not get finished or
do not actually contain anything to be learned
Design professionals spend a lot of time berating the exuberant designers
-- especially novice exuberants who want to use the latest and greatest
techniques for their own sake regardless of the distraction factor they
may introduce, or in ignorance of whether such techniques might be suited
to the design problem at hand. Many an exuberant designer has envisioned
far more than could be built, spent far more than was budgeted, and left
disillusionment behind instead of satisfaction. And it is true that you
can goof up a design far more easily through exuberance than you can through
Even so, designing without any spark or enthusiasm produces its own problem
- namely, really deadly products. Unfortunately, education and training
-- parts of the world where people have a tendency to take themselves
far too seriously -- have generally erred on the side of conservatism
and deadliness for a long, long time. There are at least three reasons
- Not enough people with serious media design skills participate in
creating instructional products. It's not where the money is, so it's
not where the glamor is. If you want truly glamorous products you can
try Hollywood, but you shouldn't overlook the military and, more recently,
the booming health care industry. (The same is true for computer programming,
by the way -- not too many serious programmers form life's ambitions
to create better CBT.)
- Education and training have spent years and years in a heavily cognitivist
posture (although not purely, and not altogether incorrectly - this
is not a theory rant!). Emphasis on rationalism and analysis, in learning
as well as in design of materials, tends to dampen exuberance in the
- Media design holds an ambiguous position in this field. If you were
studying marketing, you might cringe at the wholesale use of media techniques
for manipulating people's emotions and actions -- but media techniques
are too frequently underused in educational materials, seemingly
through a fear that they will be misused, and certainly in ignorance
of the positive role they might play if given a chance.
Both types of designers are needed, preferably working in balance with
each other and working individually to make the most of their strengths.
Whichever type you are, now is a good time to start recognizing it and
looking for design situations that help you to do your best work.
What kind of designer are you?
- My ideas are always ten times bigger than the product I finally finish.
- The main idea in design is to push toward solutions that don't exist
now - to get better.
- Most things in design have already been done anyway -- it's important
to do the right thing well, unique or not.
- If I'm not going to be able to produce the effect (or animation, sound,
"look"), it's not responsible to waste time on imagining it.
- Every situation calls for a new look at design -- you can't slap the
same design on every problem.
- When I'm working on a design everything I see looks like something
I could incorporate into it -- it's so much fun, and there are so many
good ideas out there!
- The real trick in design is take away as much as you possibly can
without destroying the final product. What's left is the real design.
- Untested solutions to design problems are no solutions at all.
What do you think -- more exuberant? more conservative? Both are fine
-- and all these statements are valid,as long as none of them is followed
to the exclusion of all others. If you agreed with all of them, you were
thinking too hard :)
If you are exuberant -- seek out sober colleagues who will ask you hard
questions about consistency and functionality.
If you are conservative, cultivate a boisterous friend or two who will
shake you up now and then with demands for more interesting or daring
solutions to your design problems.
Sano, D. (1996). Designing
large-scale web sites: A visual design methodology. New York, NY:
John Wiley & Sons. (As low as $13.00 on www.half.com
Boling, E. & Kirkley, S. (1995). Interaction
design for multimedia software. AAIM 4th Annual Conference on Multimedia
in Education and Industry.
Boling, E. (1999).
Introduction to interface design. Guest lecture.