By Kursat Ozenc
Navigation in software products usually has two meanings: one being 'to move around software’s mental space', and the other 'to get around spatially-based software’s two or three dimensional world'. Navigation in mental space means easy access to architectural pathways such as menus, functions, etc., whereas the latter means traveling in a spatial ‘world-like’ or virtual representation. In this article, I will focus on navigation in a 2 or 3 dimensional space and sketch out the main paradigms shaping today’s navigation design.
Reflecting on state-of-the-art frameworks, products, and applications, one can discover four influencers in current navigation design efforts:
‘Gamification’ means providing a game-like experience in other domains. In
3D modeling software, this means adapting navigation tools from the game domain
to enhance the user experience. Most games offer a spatial journey to their
users, which usually requires extensive navigation controls, whether it be a 1st
person or 3rd person game. The advantage of gamification is the playful,
engaging experiences it can provide; the disadvantage is the potential for misuse
of gaming metaphors without proper justification.
- Reverse Webification: ‘Webification’ refers
to the simplification of a software feature to make it suitable for a web
context. However, in recent years, with the ubiquity of map applications over
web and mobile, software designers are looking at these simpler navigation
controls for inspiration or adaptation. An advantage of reverse webification is
ease of use, but with the risk of oversimplification of tasks that need a more
complex interactive behavior.
technologies (Mobile, Gestures, and sensors) Disruptive technologies have
had a tremendous effect on navigation design. With the widespread use of
tablets, touch and location-aware interfaces, navigation design gained new
traction towards its long-awaited promise of augmented reality, or ‘immersive’
experience. Tablet/mobile apps now give users built-in navigation metaphors.
Think of an iPad with a motion sensor, or a mobile app using image recognition
software. In both, navigation design becomes more like real life (and therefore
intuitive) rather than virtual and metaphorical. This provides both advantages and
challenges for designers. One advantage is the ability to create simple, powerful
interactions that don’t tax the mental and financial bandwidth of your user. For
example, imagine an augmented reality app that uses motion and image
recognition technologies with very little user input or guidance required. One
disadvantage is the ’halo effect‘ of these disruptive technologies, which can
lead to over-expectation from your users.
For example, they might ask for a holographic navigation control because
they have seen that technology in a recent Hollywood movie.
- Felt-life experience & Metaphors Designers always face the paradox of creating new solutions while maintaining old conventions. Along these lines, felt-life experience plays an important role in defining the amount of novelty required. Felt-life experience means two things. First, the user’s built-in capabilities and their perception of affordances, in the context of navigation. This means up and down, left and right perceptions, which are also called direction metaphors. Felt-life experience also means the sum of all the user’s experiences with other products available to them. The advantage of felt-life experience is the designer’s ability to be one of their own users, and empathize with them through research and role-playing. The disadvantage of too much reliance on felt-life experience would be a tendency to inflexibility where a novel behavior is needed.