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Can I put items in a navigation menu list, that don't actually mirror the website pages structure ?

e.g. if the pages in the site follow this structure:

Homepage
   |--Products
       |--Product 1
           |--details
           |--more details
       |--Product 2
           |--details
           |--more details
   |--Services
       |--Services area 1
       |--how to use

Can I then do this for my navigation menu:

Products
   Product 1
      details 
      more details
      how to use

Where the 'how to use' menu item is a link to the page under the 'Services area 1' ?

This is for when the 'how to use' page belongs in the 'Services area 1' but it would be also useful for it to appear in the 'Product 1' pages.

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It's more important that things be logically organized, relevant and easy to find than follow the particular directory/hierarchy structure –  Ben Brocka Aug 23 '12 at 15:58
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes. The navigation menu should be optimized for the user and not be constrained by the hidden structure of the site.

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Ideally good IA and internal planning would keep the backend/logical/presenational structure of the site as close as possible. But worst case, present it how it makes sense to the user, not how it "is" –  Ben Brocka Aug 23 '12 at 21:51
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I usally create two menus. One containing 'service' sections of the site like 'About', 'Our services' and so on, and another containing links to more important pages like catalogue of products.

The second menu often represent the structure of the products catalogue like 'Man shoes', 'Woman shoes', 'Kids shoes' etc. Here I used online shop structure for example but this principle works in any website I create.

Moreover I often duplicate main catalogue sections on the main page in form of banners or labeled picture links.

Look at Sarenza, Zappos. They are good examples of such practice.

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Picture examples would bbe nice too if you can find them (you have enough reputation to add pictures now.) –  Ben Brocka Sep 14 '12 at 0:05
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Abstract: Matching navigation to physical structur simplifies maintenance for simple sites, but is not sufficient for user needs on complex ones.


Often, you end up with different access paths to the same data, optimized for different visitor groups or visitor tasks.

For example, you offer two products: "Furbulator I" can do X and Y, while "Furbulator Q" can do Y and a bit of Z).

There are different visitor tasks:

"I need a lot of Z, what should I buy?" requires access through applications: Applications --> Z --> Application Note.

"How do I Z with my Furbulator?" requires access through products: Products --> Furbulators --> How to tell your Furbulator Model --> Furbulator Q --> Application Note.

If you want to support these paths, you will have at least one navigational structure that does not match the physical hierarchy.


Having said that, as long as you can match navigation and physical structure, and a single hierarchy is sufficient, maintenance gets far easier. It is not wrong to start a site under that assumption, and makeshifts work a long time.

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Thanks - makes a lot of sense. I was getting tied in knots forcing my navigation menu to match the hierarchy when it wouldn't make sense for the user. –  Mick B Aug 24 '12 at 22:43
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