Persistent Navigation Techniques
Navigation tools are frequently one of the most prominent design elements on a professional services site. They are also one of the most important areas of innovation in interactive design. Driven by an industry-wide focus on usability and the rise of touch technology like iPads and smart phones, designers are inventing exciting new ways for people to explore content that is increasingly deep and complex.
One of the new techniques that we find most applicable to the corporate and legal world is persistent navigation, sometimes called “sticky” navigation. We call navigation “persistent” when it retains its position on a screen as you scroll or explore content on the site. To see it in action, take a look at the following examples (it’s best if you open them in a newer browser such as Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer 9):
- Whiteboard: Design agency based in Chattanooga, TN
Once you bring the site up, scroll down on the page. Watch as the navigation menu appears, shifts to the top and then remains anchored as you explore the rest of the site.
- Dorsey & Whitney LLP: Law firm headquartered in Minneapolis, MN
This site uses a vertical navigation bar anchored on the left. Check out a longer page (this one, for example) and watch as you scroll down.
- Foley & Lardner LLP: Law firm headquartered in Milwaukee, WI
This site uses traditional navigation positioning on desktop browsers, but if you bring the site up on an iPad, you can see how the navigation menu will remain anchored to the top of the screen.
- Tourism New Zealand: Tourism information site for New Zealand
Scrolling down on the page initiates a lot of interesting visual and functional activity – but the menu anchored at the top helps orient you and makes it easy to jump to other areas of the site.
Apart from the “cool factor,” persistent navigation contributes in concrete ways to usability, particularly for sites where the content may get a little long on some pages. A visitor may scroll far away from the top banner as they read the content, but their navigation choices always remain close at hand. And as the Foley & Lardner example shows, it’s particularly handy for tablet users. Persistent navigation is a good design option for many firms, and its inherent flexibility means it can fit into existing or more conservative sites as easily as new designs.