When using the internet, we typically use a browser that has a number of existing navigational features such as the ability to open (URL) addresses, move Back and Forward, utilize a set of Bookmarks or locations in one's History, and the like. Sometimes the use of these features working in harmony with the content and design will be enough for the movement through a site. But by also including navigational options – such as image-maps, sequential links, or navigational bars – users are able to follow their own train of thought and/or get the gist of the overall content.
There are a number of principles to complement the variety of navigational approaches available. In Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience, Jennifer Fleming has suggested that navigation should:
In Information Architecture, the authors show that there are basically four components of a navigational system. They start off with the fact that they all are hierarchical systems. It follows that a split can be made between a global versus a local navigational system. And then there are pages that are full of embedded links, an ad hoc navigational system, that is not like what has been mentioned and is “more editorial than architectural.“
Jennifer Tidwell’s Designing Interfaces lists the common navigational patterns as:
In a study on Web Site Usability, Jared Spool found two major issues affect navigability: 1) Users didn't have the specific (business area) knowledge necessary to effectively make sense of the information there, and 2) The site structure was not clear (see the Organization of Content). Also, except for self-referential pages full of undifferentiated information, they found that the use of a Navigational Bar to be an effective tool in aiding users in finding their way clearly through a site. A Table of Contents can prove quite effective as well as the need for some sort of indicator as to one's present location within a given hierarchy. Site Maps also proved to be effective.
More information on navigation can be found at: