You are Here
Having great navigation makes an application understandable and discoverable because it clarifies the product’s structure and encourages the user to explore. On the flip-side, failure to properly guide a user is like leaving them alone deep in the jungle since the user is now lost and disoriented. And unlike a trip in an exotic location, your app’s users have a simple escape plan: the back button. Granted your app might not live in a browser, but the point still stands that people always have the option to leave.
Designing exceptional navigation is difficult though because allowing user to jump around is only the start. If all we wanted to do was make it easy for users to go anywhere in the app, then we could just have a mess of links that connect to all the different sections of the app. Of course having fewer clicks is generally better, but eliminating clicks at the cost of increasing the complexity of the homepage is not the way to go. When Steve Krug says “don’t make me think”, he doesn’t mean “make me think as hard as you like, but no more than 3 times.”
To reach the next level, navigation should make the product talk by letting the user know what is possible within the app without overwhelming them with everything at once. To achieve this goal, you must allow users to quickly grasp where they are in the system by minimizing noise and by offering a straight-forward hierarchy of navigation. For example, use unambiguous icons to give quick information at a glance. Another tip is to make it clear what is and is not a link. At its best, the app is so self-explanatory that the navigation just disappears until needed by the user.
The difficulty of navigation is finding the balance between having all the information in front of you to know where you can go versus having just enough information to complete the next step in the process. When done correctly though, an awesome customer experience emerges where the user always knows that “You are Here.”