Navigation structures hint at how designers want us to understand our role in the environment. For example, the primary structure of a bank’s website may look like this:
- Banking products
- Lending products
- Credit cards
- Investment products
- Access to your accounts (“Log In”)
This is a common structure for bank websites. This typical structural “bank” configuration has evolved over many years of testing. Many banks use such a structure because this scheme has proven to work well for many people.
We take structures like these for granted for bank websites. But it’s important to recognize that they’re not a mandated default. This website’s designers had many options when it came to structuring the environment. For example, they could’ve chosen to a structure based on the size or type of their target customers:
- Products for individuals
- Products for small and medium businesses
- Products for large corporations
Up until a few years ago, some banks were still organized like this at the top level. Today, many have re-organized around a product based structure.
These structures have an important impact on how we experience the environment. The product-based navigation structure sends a very different message than the audience-based one. A person using the audience-based navigation will try to locate herself within the available choices; this sets the tone for the interactions to follow.
It’s not that one structure is better than the other — they’re different. The key is finding the one that best matches the users’ mental model: what the environment does, how it works, and what their expected degree of agency is within it.