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What would be considered best practice in the following situation in terms of usability?

Each section on a site has a "home" page, and several related pages as "children". Each page has a sidebar containing navigation links.

Assuming the user is on the "Meet the Staff section":

Do the links look like:

  • Section Links
  • Meet the Staff
  • Fred
  • Dave
  • Bob

or would this be more "user friendly"

  • Meet the Staff
  • Fred
  • Dave
  • Bob

I'm concerned with the semantics - to have "Section Links" or something similar as a "header" for the sidenavigation, or to use the "Section Name" as the "header". Is having "Section Links" unnecessary, or would users perhaps benefit from knowing that they are links etc?

Hope this makes sense.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Most common pratice, in my experience, would be the latter. I think, if the semantics are appropriate, this is preferable, and the semantics certainly are in your case. I would be careful to ensure that "Meet the staff" is as obviously a link as "Fred", etc. The term "Meet the Staff" does, slightly, lead weight to that copy acting more as a heading than as an item in its own right; simply "Staff" might be a better choice if it cannot be obviously indicated as a link.

I find the term "Section links" unnecessary and confusing. I don't think you need/should label a list of links as "links"; that should be obvious.

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I would mirror Bobby Jack's answer above, but I'd add one important change to make. Assuming the user is on the "Meet the Staff" section landing page, the bolded heading should not be a link. Similarly, if there are other ways of navigating to other main sections of the site, then I'd also suggest stripping out other sections from the contextual navigation, so that users can move around the current section through the sidebar navigation and then perhaps hit other top-level sections through collapsed menus or headings only.

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Why don't you try testing this to see which solution works out best for your users? It's easy enough to make general assumptions, but each site has a unique audience with a unique understanding of how user interfaces and navigation systems should work.

We run a usability testing tool at that you could use to test this - you could do an A/B test of the two different systems and see which one came back better - or if you have a browse on the internet, you'll find other tools with similar capabilities.

Either way you'll get concrete information about which one works back and if/how the interface needs to be optimised, and you'll be able to make a more informed decision about what works best for your users.

Good luck.

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