Navigation Design Patterns that Make UX Sense

If you are developing an app, then one of the main aims should be to give users a great experience. However, the trick is in making the user experience (UX) so smooth that users don’t realise they are having an experience at all. The challenge, therefore, is for designers to create intuitive coherent elements that blend into the background.

Navigation is what helps users work through the flow of information in the user interface (UI) and achieve their goals. So, it stands to reason that when it is done well, it leads to a better user experience. After all, it supports a smooth journey from start to finish and helps users get where they want to go. In this article, we’ll look at some of the UI navigation patterns that you can apply to improve user experience. 

Why is Navigation Design So Important

Navigation design is the process of creating, analysing and implementing ways for users to navigate through a website or app. It should aim to enable them to get from A to B in the simplest way possible. It could be in the form of a breadcrumb trail, a dropdown menu or tabs, but each solution should build a user flow that helps people navigate to achieve their goals. When navigation is clear, it delivers many benefits:

  • Reduces frustrations – users don’t have to waste time looking for resources and information and can get on with using the app for the intended purpose. 
  • Enhances understanding – users can clearly see how to access what they are looking for and find relevant information. 
  • Builds confidence – users have more faith in their ability to use the product successfully as they can easily navigate around. 
  • Provides credibility – users appreciate a product that has been well thought through and that considers what they need to achieve. 
  • Promotes usability – users can easily find what they’re looking for and have more time to explore and enjoy the product. 

Accessible navigation requires little effort for the user and should boost user experience and, in turn, drive up conversion rates. However, poor navigation does the opposite, creating a negative experience and causing users to drop off the conversion funnel. A poorly designed UI navigation can have a serious impact on your bottom line. 

What Are the Top Navigation Patterns?

To help users navigate an app, designers can employ a variety of design patterns, including links, labels and other UI elements, to make interactions easier. These are reusable solutions to problems, often used as a combination of mechanisms. Some of the most commonly used navigation patterns are the following:

1. Dropdown Menu

A dropdown menu is an expandable element that presents several options that a user can select to transport them to a new location. The pattern is easy to understand and easy to scan. However, it’s important that there aren’t too few or too many options on the menu, so it is clear how to use it and doesn’t become too overwhelming. 

2. Sliding Hamburger Menu

Similar to a dropdown menu, a sliding hamburger menu is a common Android and iOS mobile menu for displaying multiple links. A hamburger icon is used to represent the menu when it is at rest; when clicked or tapped upon, it then expands and uncovers the navigation links. This navigation pattern is great for responsive designs as its compact look works to declutter screens, especially when there are lots of navigation links. 

3. Fixed-Position Menu

Otherwise known as a sticky menu, a fixed-position menu is a UI pattern where the header area remains visible as you scroll down through the page’s content. This means that regardless of where users are on the page, or what page they are on, the menu and navigation links are clearly accessible. Enabling navigation options to be reached in seconds can make a huge difference, especially for the likes of e-commerce sites. 

4. Custom Mega Menu

The mega menu is both expandable and multilevel. It has two-dimensional panels, which are divided into tabs. All links within each tab are available when a user clicks or hovers over it, so users don’t have to scroll. Icons are often used to provide structure and visibility along with images and coloured fonts to direct the user’s attention. Megamenus are great space savers and a good choice if there are lots of links to be displayed. 

5. Card Grid Menu

A card grid menu contains a set of images divided into blocks that can be expanded and collapsed. The visual structure allows relevant elements to be grouped together and helps to visualise themes and UX flows. As images in the grid create large targets, it is very finger-friendly for mobile navigation. What’s more, it has a logical and adaptable layout which makes them great for responsive design. 

6. Gesture-Based Navigation

Gestures have become an inevitable yet invisible part of mobile app design. The method of navigating uses gestures such as swiping and scrolling instead of buttons. When well-executed, the pattern allows for more fluid interactions and creates more space. Gesture-based navigation is typically used in ebooks to improve the user experience. However, designers need to be careful to use familiar, intuitive choices for the gestures so as not to confuse users. 

Choosing the Right Navigation Design Elements for Your Project

Navigation design can make all the difference to user experience, however it is complex and it can be difficult to know which patterns to use. The answer is that no one pattern is necessarily better. What’s more important, however, is that each pattern is carefully considered and tested before it’s implemented. Making sure the navigation pattern is right for your product, and most importantly your users is what makes all the difference. With a user-centred approach to navigation design, your design will focus on how it works rather than what it looks like, and the user experience will be all the better for it. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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