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I just had a conversation with my mate who is an Art Director in regards to a website he designed, when it was developed, absolutely NO link or navigation item on the site shows any sort of state other than the mouse cursor changing to a pointer.

Personally when I come across these sort of websites, I absolutely hate that there is no state. It feels like nothing is happening, like the website doesn't even acknowledge I'm attempting to navigate the website.

When I raised this concern with him he said he didn't care at all. That since launching the website his client had over 1000% increase in sales to the point they had to remove the 'Apply' button to prevent them from being completely overwhelmed by sales. He also said "Seriously? You care about that?!?"

My question is: Is navigation/link hover state important, is it important to the user experience, and should this be something that Web Designer/Developers concern themselves when when splicing a website.

As a side question is Visited state important also?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's definitely important to the user experience, from a usability point of view, but more importantly for me, from an accessibility perspective too. Any tiny change such as a hover state which will enhance the usability of the website should definitely be implemented in my opinion. If the state of a link changes once hovered upon, it indicates to the user that something needs to be done, and that will be a click. It's also more important for those with learning difficulties, as it improves perception that a click is required.

As a side note, I'd also stress the importance of including a style for when a user tabs to a link (the :focus pseudo-class in CSS), as this is important for accessibility too, for obvious reasons. If they can't hover over an item, they have to tab through the website so it is important that the user knows exactly where they are on a page while tabbing through.

In conclusion, why wouldn' you want to implement something so simple when it has such an improvement on usability and accessibility for your website? I think if you don't have something happen, a lot of experienced users will hover over the link and be quite confused that nothing has happened, which really disrupts the flow of the user experience.

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Can't believe I've written HTML/CSS for about 12 years and it's never occurred to me the benefit of Focus has for keyboard tabbing... Thanks! –  Phill May 28 '12 at 10:13
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Re: Conclusion - I think developers who don't implement such simple things that improve usability/accessibility are lazy. I think my friends co-workers are lazy for not implementing hovers. –  Phill May 28 '12 at 10:15

Question to serve as a counter argument (devil's advocate): Is it primarily a mobile site? They do not have have hover or tab functionality.

Use case always trumps convention. And sales is the most important metric. Personally I would A/B test a design with hover/lack-of-hover.

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Even if the site is primarily mobile-focused, all that's gained from not including hover states is losing a few lines of CSS (which may not be loaded anyway if the design uses media queries). I would hazard that it's almost certainly not worth the gain that hover affordances would bring to niche (desktop) users. –  dhmholley May 22 '12 at 15:57
    
oh - I was just suggesting that they should test it. I think not having hover state is bad design and usability. I create large menus with very visible hover states because I believe it helps me (and have tested it and proved it). –  Chris Kluis May 24 '12 at 13:41

With respect to his sales argument, overwhelming performance does not excuse poor usability. There are almost always useful things you can do to convert people which don't necessarily result in additional sales right now (sign up to a mailing list, capture their personal data for marketing purposes by getting them to log in and give it to you, generate interest metrics on which to base future capacity decisions, and so forth). Simply saying "I don't need to improve this, because we can't do any better in sales anyway," is actually pretty short-sighted.

My suggestion would be to try and prove your point with data. Split testing a design with some hover states shouldn't be too tricky - if his original code is clean enough it shouldn't take much time to add in some hover states with CSS. Ask him to compare the performance of the two, and then make his decisions on real data rather than personal taste.

Or even, and I'm going out on a limb here, test it with an actual user or two.

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He doesn't actually cut up the design, after he's dealt with the client, designed it and what not, it's palmed off to devs and he doesn't really see it there after. He mainly does the pitch work. It was me looking at the finished product and making comments about the lack of hover that started this conversation :) –  Phill May 21 '12 at 13:37
    
You are correct in the hover states, and he would be wise to expect more from his developers. I am guessing some of his business comes from referral. –  Frank May 21 '12 at 19:54

side question first. Visited state is only important on sites that are heavy on information - for example documentation sites.

As for hover. Your friend is lazy for not developing a hover state. The least he could do is make sure that the mouse pointer changes to give some indication that the user is over a link.

One of the reason flash based user interfaces tend to be so bad is the designers fail to properly take advantage of states. We have been trained as users that when something changes when a mouse is over it that a click defines an action.

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He didn't not develop the hovers, the developers who spliced his design didn't add it. He doesn't see it as a negative thing that no hovers occur. It's worth noting the mouse does change to a pointer, but to me that isn't obvious because I look for a colour change or underline, or something along those lines. –  Phill May 21 '12 at 13:39

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