Simple tips for testing application navigation

Rachel Nabors recently wrote an article for UX Booth on Better User Orientation through Navigation. Some simple test ideas that can be pulled from the article include:

  • Can you navigate without having to mouseover icons to figure out what's what? Is it easy to find the link to the home page (or other core areas of your site)?

  • Is there a way to distinguish between internal and external links?

  • Can you easily open links in the same tab and a new tab? If you open it in the same tab and click back, do you actually go back to where you were?

  • Can a user easily tell where they are within the site or application?

  • Are back and forward buttons included in any multipart forms?

  • Are dropdowns and flyouts available for a short period of time after you move off of them, but not too long?

  • Is there sufficient live area around links?

  • Are basic elements for finding information (like search or sitemaps) available if a user can't readily find what they need?

If you break that list down, you'll find some interesting dynamics at play:

  • Some tests deal with user expectation. For example, you need search and sitemaps because everyone has search and sitemaps. Users expect those basic elements. They also don't expect to get transferred suddenly to a different site when they click a link.

  • Some tests deal with confidence in navigation. For example, when a website uses javascript to open a link and I can't open it in a new tab (as the author points out in the article), I get angry. If I hit back and get redirected to somewhere other than where "back" is, I get angry. And if I'm filling out a form of some sort (especially credit card information), I'm almost never going to use my browser's back button. You'll need to provide me one.

  • Some tests deal with how forgiving you've made your site. The examples in the article of someone navigating with shaky hands, someone who doesn't know what your icons mean, and someone who may not know where they are in your site so they need some visual clues all ring true. We've all been there. Making sure people can easily figure out where they are, what they need to do next, and then making it easy to actually do those things, is what it's all about.

Another post worth looking at by Rachel Nabors is her post on The Three Minute Accessibility Test.