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OK, here's the situation: A reasonably simple website with a primary navigation menu including drop-down list of sublevels on hover. Each navigation level may have 3 - 6 sublevels below it, none more important than the other. For example see this mockup:

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My question is: What should happen if the user Clicks on one of the primary navigation options (such as 'News') instead of just hovering over and choosing a sublevel?

My instinct tells me that I should allow a click of this navigation option; it's expected user behavior to be able to click navigation options. If clicked then a landing page of some sort will be present listing all the sublevels (latest news, blog posts, case studies'). However there is no content to add to this landing page other than presenting a list of links, which is pretty useless. I could pad it out by adding iconography and descriptions of the sublevels, but that's just content for the sake of it; does 'Latest News' really need a description in order to understand what it is?

If I don't include a landing page then clicking this primary navigation will have to open something but if I open the 'Latest News' page that risks the user not knowing about the other sections of the site.

(The landing page will be useful for breadcrumb navigation too, so I don't really want to do away with it).

Is my thinking that a landing page showing the list of sublevels actually useful even though there is no actual content to display, or is there a better alternative to go with?

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Does 'About us' have one page? - therefore making it more logical to allow clicks on 'About us' rather than have a menu with one item in? - therefore giving the user a precedent for clicking on 'News'? - therefore giving you the chicken before the egg? –  Roger Attrill Jan 17 '12 at 11:30
    
Each menu option has more than one page below it, 'About Us' included, so the same actions can be used for all menu items. –  JonW Jan 17 '12 at 11:35
4  
Something else to consider while doing this is how touch users interact with your site. You typically can't hover on a touch screen, so clicking (tapping) these menus might be their only way to get to the content. –  Kris Harper Jan 17 '12 at 14:28
    
@root45 good point too. Also depending on how the dropdown navigation works it may be JScript not CSS so will need to be clickable for accessibility purposes too. Whether the click just opens the menu or navigates somewhere is a different question (a bit too many clicks for navigating if that's the case) –  JonW Jan 17 '12 at 14:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I disagree with @Tony, and think that there should be a landing page for this, because, as you say, it feels like a clickable menu. I suppose it would be ideal to have on this three blocks, with teasers of the latest news, the latest blog entries and the best case studies.

I think you need more than the links - some information to justify the page, and (possibly) help a user decide which of these three they actually want. It seems like a bit of a waste, and it is only repeating material elsewhere, but a click here should progress the users attempts to find what they want, and this should do that.

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"a click here should progress the users attempts to find what they want" this is a good point. But yes, the landing page does seem like a bit of a waste. However both the idea of having the page and not having it are not settling well with me, so I'm wondering if there's an obvious third option that I've not yet considered. –  JonW Jan 17 '12 at 11:49
    
Sites I have worked on tend to have them. That does not mean they are a good idea. The best option is if you can find something worthwhile to put there, without it taking you a lot of work. And I agree that taking you to the first entry is not a good option. –  Schroedingers Cat Jan 17 '12 at 12:11
    
Maybe add the links with a short description under each to help people choose. It's not a waste if people end up clicking on the link, and I bet that some will. –  Ben Durnell Jan 18 '12 at 6:32

i really think you should go somewhere. users tend to have an instinct that whenever they can do this in one member or more in a group, they WILL assume they can do it for every other member. so if you click About Us and land somewhere, they tool will think News, Questions and so on will go somewhere. not having any effect will result in questioning "why can i do this here and not here?"

in reality, a navigation is just another list, which is defined as a group of individual elements that have something in common with each-other - thus drawing to the conclusion that what one does in that group, assume everyone does it too

somewhat similar to StackExchange, you click on the "Questions" link, you get all of the Questions. But all questions are mixed. you have to go and click a tag to get a certain group. That's similar to your dilemma, it's just that tags are not in a sub-menu.

why not create a landing page for each, and a summary or "latest" in the upper part of that section (commonly placed in a JS slider). then break off all children content into categories below it containing a list of news titles and summary.

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The cause of this dilemma is the habit of taking content and putting it into a page framework.

The reality is that there's no real rule that "particular content = particular page". In fact, often you'll find that it makes more sense for different types of content to share one page.

This is nothing new...it's been an issue as long as I recall.

What usually happens is a site map is decided upon:

  • about us
    • location
    • staff
    • etc

Content is produced for the 3 'pages', 3 pages are built and then someone says "wait...what content do we put on 'about us?'"

And then what usually happens is that 3 quick introduction paragraphs with links to the 3 content areas are slapped on to the about us page.

That's OK. It's an acceptable solution. It allows users that expect ABOUT US to be clickable to see something, and it makes sure those that don't expect ABOUT US to be clickable to not miss anything.

However, I often find that the proper solution would have been not to have 4 pages. Just one About Us page with all the content listed right there.

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Yes, fair point that sometimes content doesn't always needs seperate pages, but I don't think the issue is with the sitemap being 'decided upon'. The sitemap comes from the IA stage where content is categorised and logically ordered. Because it logically falls into certain categories I think you'll always get issues like this category landing page problem. –  JonW Jan 19 '12 at 11:12
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IA should be designing a content map, rather than page maps. –  DA01 Jan 19 '12 at 15:24

I don't think you should go anywhere if you click on the primary navigation options. It feels unnatural. If you look at how the system menus on Windows and Mac work nothing happens if you click on them except opening the dropdown menu. You should mimic that behavior.

There has been a lot of discussion about the bad implementation of dropdown menus on the web where most of the solutions triggers the menu on hover instead of a click. If you use hover as a way to show the menu there is a risk that people will click on it and don't get exposed to it's menu options (same goes with using a touch based devicce). If you use click as a way to show the menu then people need to click twice to reach the category page and that isn't self evident.

If you are using a breadcrumb menu and/or using javascript to activate the dropdown there should be a fallback page that at least lists all the sub pages.

There could be a need for such a page if you want to summarize the category or prioritize some of the category pages.

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System menus for Windows of Mac are not the same as navigation menus on the web. In fact i'm struggling to find a website where the primary navigation isn't clickable. However all the sites I find do have landing pages below the click. Your second suggestion about the breadcrumb menu or javascript having a 'fallback page' pretty much sums up the landing page. something needs to exist for breadcrumb navigation, non-script users etc, but I can't determine what that something should be. –  JonW Jan 17 '12 at 11:45
    
Yep, systems menus are not the same as web menus but people are more used to their behavior. Maybe I answered the question a little to fast assumed a couple of things that wasn't clear. I've edit my answer. –  Tony Bolero Jan 17 '12 at 12:17

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