In search of the perfect navigation bar

The navigation bar is the strip of links that get users around your site. How do you put one together and why has the BBC got it right?

 In search of the perfect navigation bar

The usability of your website needs a good nav bar as a foundation. It’s a big way that people jump around your site and find what they need. Confusing and illogical nav bars can stump your users and get them tangled in your site.

What should a good nav bar do?

There are 5 steps to creating a good nav bar for your website

  1. break up your site into logical areas
  2. recognise the most important areas for your users
  3. cut out sections that clutter the nav bar and aren’t as popular
  4. name each section clearly
  5. use a consistent nav bar across your whole site

A lot of websites (normally ones for designers) use the nav bar as a piece of installation art.

This website for art criticism makes you scroll over the 9 chain links to see where they link to. That’s too much work for your user and makes the whole site an effort to navigate.

So why has the BBC got the perfect nav bar?

For our money, this nav bar (above) is the best one currently online. It’s got all the ingredients of a perfect nav bar. It’s…

  • simple to understand
  • includes the most important sections of the website
  • logically laid out
  • named clearly and succinctly

And crucially, it’s perfect because it was very well thought-out. This is what they wrote back in 2010 at the launch of an older nav bar:

“In order to fit the most popular links onto the navigation bar and allow for consistency across all BBC web sites, we had to keep its overall size down… we have too much content to try and fit onto the homepage all at once”

At the time, they were launching this nav bar:

What’s the difference? TV and iPlayer have been split up. Travel’s been removed.

The new nav bar is such an improvement because it 

  • recognises the importance of iPlayer and the lesser importance of Travel
  • cuts out going from TV then to iPlayer which is no longer a natural connection that users make
  • keeps everything uncluttered and retains the classic News/Sport/Weather trio that the BBC is recognised for

The pursuit of the perfect nav bar ends at the BBC homepage. But creating one for your website is possible if you think about your site from the user’s point of view.