Designing Web Navigation (Book review)

What? An entire book just about designing navigation on the Web? Yes, that's right. And if you think about it for a while you'll probably realise that there is a need for a book on that subject. Heck, considering the number of sites out there that are incredibly hard to navigate, there is room for plenty of books that explain how to create Web navigation that works.

And you're very likely to have run into problems more than once when trying to figure out how to make a website or Web application easy and intuitive not only for yourself, but for your own or your client's end users, to find their way around. Designing Web Navigation by James Kalbach aims to help you master the fundamentals of navigation design. While there is no guarantee that you will master the subject, reading this book will definitely give you a lot of insight into the problems that you encounter in navigation design as well as possible solutions to those problems.

The way Designing Web Navigation is structured makes it usable not only as a book you read from cover to cover, but also as a reference to keep handy for the next time a tricky navigation problem shows up. It can also give you arguments to use in discussions with clients or other team members when there is something that doesn't feel quite right about the solution somebody is suggesting but you can't put it into words. In fact, it may also make you look at the problem from a different angle and realise that maybe your solution isn't the best one.

The author starts the first part of the book by explaining the foundations of Web navigation. Those foundations include why we even need navigation in the first place, how we use Web browsers to interact with websites, the most common types of navigation on the Web, and how we can label navigation to make it easy to understand.

The second part of the book is called "A Framework for Navigation Design", and is focused on providing you with a systematic approach to designing Web navigation. It does that by describing a number of phases that you will often move through while turning a concept into a working navigation system.

In the third and final part, James Kalbach takes a closer look at navigation in special contexts, such as before and after searching, in social tagging systems, and how Web applications can be navigated.

Throughout the book there are many references to accessibility and internationalisation issues that can be caused by some types of navigation. It's great to see that those two very important aspects of Web navigation aren't overlooked here as they are in many other places.

Overall this is a great book that I enjoyed reading. The examples and references are current and credible. One area that has room for improvement is the layout and typography, which I think could be more usable. Line-length is a bit too long for the book to be a really comfortable read, and page numbers are smaller than the text on websites designed by ad agency art directors.

But don't let that discourage you from picking up a copy of this book. My impression is that there is a lot of research behind this book, and I think all web designers and front-end developers can learn something from it.

Designing Web Navigation
Author: James Kalbach
ISBN-10: 0596528108
ISBN-13: 978-0596528102

Posted on March 19, 2008 in Reviews, Usability