By Kursat Ozenc
Having laid out the main influencers in navigation design, how then can designers create smooth navigation controls in spatially-based software? Depending on the complexity of the design brief, designers can embrace these influencers without marrying one in particular, instead synthesizing navigation features and behaviors based on their priorities.
How do you as a designer form priorities and act accordingly?
- Do your homework: know your audience and their contextual needs, and discover which navigation mode is priority: egocentric, exocentric, or both. What are the contextual needs? Are your users office-bound, or are they usually mobile and in the field? Do they navigate for the sake of navigation, or is navigation just one step in another task? Are they shortcut-savvy power users, or do they come from all walks of life? Do they need a first person egocentric view, a global exocentric view, or both? Which modes of navigation do they want: look at, walk, drive, or fly over? Do they want to navigate through an object, an area or global world? These questions can be taken as guide posts to help you strategize and determine your priorities.
- Hybrid is the new norm in design. Designers should consider a design that will work across platforms and devices, which means a curated navigation framework rather than a one-type-fits-all approach. Curating is different than blind consistency; it means being sensitive to the specified platform or device context. Delivering the same interaction on both tablet and desktop may not make sense, since they have different affordances. Disruptive technologies such as gesture or other novel input devices are a critical influencer for forming these hybrid designs.
- Navigation means information in context. People navigate in order to get informed, or to inform others with different goals. The value proposition of way-finding is to get location information. For leisure, it’s to get information to progress in the game setting. For engineering, it’s to inform the designer so that she can better design an object, and for creative production it is to present and convey an idea in an editorial setting. From a broader perspective, navigation design is about creating affordances for intuitive, flexible, yet structured paths for the end user to reach and consume information. This idea should bring an information architect’s mindset to the navigation problem, which is to create a framework or skeleton for the navigation flow before thinking about specific features or controls.
- Designers need to create or use already-formed navigation patterns to simulate a smooth flowing experience. What do patterns provide? Patterns address felt-life experience by leveraging the user’s memory and cumulative experience. Patterns are also an embodiment of best practices where the designer can cherry pick snippets of best flow, behavior, and controls. However, current state-of-the-art products lack good explicit navigation pattern libraries, leaving designers to try to deduce patterns by observing the products in action. One drawback of patterns might be the inflexibility that they bring to the table when non-traditional influencers are at play, like disruptive technologies, gamification, or reverse webification. At this point, it is the designer’s call to break the pattern, especially when these new influencers are necessary to provide the best user experience.
- Finally, designers need to think of the quality of the navigation experience. What gamification or reverse webification shows us is that creating playful, light-weight, straightforward products is a way to reach quality. To achieve this quality goal, designers can leverage game-like or web-like experiences and deploy them in the navigation design.
In designing navigation challenges, designers should be aware of the main influencers that are at stake, namely gamification, reverse webification, disruptive technologies, and felt-life experience. To effectively manage or make sense of these influencers, designers need to act strategically and prioritize what’s important for their users. To do that, they need to dive deeply into understanding their target audience and that audience’s contextual needs. Designers need to think hybrid, drawing on a constellation of experiences, instead of trying to provide a one-size-fits-all solution. They need to rethink what navigation is in terms of information in context. The designer should leverage design patterns to use felt-life experience and best practices in the field. However, designers should also be cautious, but perhaps brave enough to challenge established patterns to address disruptive technology influencers. Finally, designers need to think of creating a quality experience that will provide a working flow while the user is in action.