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Vertical navigation: a symptom of poor planning?

Our main business here at BMON is running Google AdWords campaigns for industrial and scientific clients, but we do a very small number of website rebuilds too, mainly when a client needs one prior to launching an AdWords campaign! We’re often asked to “make it more modern looking”, but what does that actually mean?

If you look at “modern” websites, it’s often hard to pin down exactly what makes them feel more contemporary. The obvious trends are clear slogans, rounded corners, large icons and the like, but one of the main changes over the last few years is a little less obvious at first glance: it’s the gradual disappearance of the left-hand side vertical navigation menu. There’s a long article discussing this in Smashing Magazine called The Case Against Vertical Navigation if you’re interested in why, but there are a few bullet points.

– A vertical navigation menu works best on a small, flat site, and we’re all trying to be cleverer than that nowadays.
– There’s the waste of space it normally produces, unless the content of the page is the same length.
– If the menu items are to expand on the fly, this works much better going downwards than across the page.
– It doesn’t conform to the way we expect to read things.
– Studies have proved it to be inefficient.

For me, the most important stage in a website design is setting out the “information architecture”, a long time before graphic designers are called in. The navigation system of a web site stems directly from this exercise, and a poor navigation system suggests not enough thought was ever put into the way the visitors use a site.

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