This article says things I’ve been telling clients for years. But it’s nice to have external validation.
Bottom line: Don’t make the user work too hard or think too hard. Don’t throw up barriers (like a required Flash intro).
Another way to think about it: A website is not an application (usually). So don’t make people learn how it works. Make it obvious.
Some Do’s and Don’ts:
Drop-down menus don’t tell people what they’re going to get when they click. Menus are for applications. Instead, use buttons for standard stuff: about us; products; services; contact us… etc. and use a paragraph with a link to explain what’s in the more obscure sections.
This means breaking down your site into a tree, rather than a flat hierarchy, so people can drill down. Show them a clear path to what they’re looking for. This means anticipating what they’re looking for, and giving them a guided path to reach it. The new Ajax tools make it easier to expand navigational information… but try not to make it distracting.
How do you know what they’re looking for? You don’t. But if you bothered to put it in your site, that’s something you’re anticipating they might want to find, so don’t hide it.
Don’t be afraid of redundant links: Often it makes sense to have sidebar buttons, along with descriptive links. But it really makes sense to repeat “inline links.” By inline links, I mean a paragraph like this with a link stuck in the middle.
It’s less important to be original than to be good: Everyone who is a designer wants to be original. But unusual navigation is confusing, difficult, and wrong. A typical business site can have great photography, cool graphics, great guided tours and slide shows… but don’t spend your energy on creative navigation names and weird button arrangements. Never hide functionality or make people have to figure it out!
If you want to be totally creative, great! But do it on an experimental site, make it a novelty or a form of entertainment. But don’t cripple a business site’s functionality to make your mark as a designer.