An Event Apart: “Designing an Intuitive Navigation”

Gerry McGovern speaking at An Event Apart Seattle 2018 on April 4, 2018.

Confusing menus and links are the number one issue people have in getting stuff done in digital. Sure, search is critical but even the best search usually only jumps you down a few levels in the navigation hierarchy. To complete your task you nearly always have to click more, and selecting the right link is where so many people get frustrated, confused and annoyed. Learn about methods to reduce confusion and increase speed and simplicity for your customers. Learn how to use evidence to uncover the core navigational mental models within people’s minds and to create intuitive interfaces based on these mental models. Learn how to apply essential navigational principles such as: Familiarity, Unity, Essentiality, and Forward-Focus.


  • What “now” means on the web is “after 6 steps”
  • One of the key principles of navigation design is fidelity
    • You you need to tell people the distance they need to go to get where they want to get
  • A link is a promise, you make a promise to the customer
    • Keep your promises
  • Fidelity
  • Momentum
    • When someone is on a page, you need to trust that they want to be on that page
    • Your job is to help them move forward
    • If you want to simplify, you need to strip out everything that is not related to the task at hand
  • Unity
    • Try to create navigation structure as unified as possible
    • Instead of fixing the root problem, we keep adding little fixes
  • Clarity
    • Icons on their own are generally terrible as navigation — at least have a clear word underneath them
    • There are only a few icons that people universally understand
    • FAQs is the lazy man’s approach to information architecture design
    • How does the customer know if their question is frequently asked?
  • Twins
    • There’s often 2 dominant journeys for every task, the object and the subject — some people look for the object first, some people look for the subject first
  • Minimalism
    • The closer you get to the destination, the more you should minimize the navigation
    • Once you let one tiny task in, they come flooding through
    • We overload people with too many choices
  • Magnetism
    • Are people clicking a link they shouldn’t be clicking on, going to the wrong place (dirty magnet)
    • Magnetism score = average success rate – average failure rate
  • It’s much better to design with the customer than for the customer
  • Sorting A-Z is just another form of random for some people
  • Navigation design principles:
    1. Momentum: Keep people moving forward
    2. Unity: Make navigation as unified as possible
    3. Twins: Design for the journeys customers are on
    4. Minimalism: Have navigation take up as little space as is practical
    5. Clarity: Navigation must immediately communicate what it is—and what it is not
    6. Fidelity: A link is a promise. Navigation should keep its promises
    7. Magnetism: Maximize clean magnetism. Minimize dirty magnetism

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