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My boss insists on occasionally doing designs for our firm. The unfortunate part is he often does odd things. One such thing is that he likes to switch what side the sidebar is on dependent on the area you are viewing. There is no real driving reason behind the switch other than the fact that he wants variation.

I feel this is very distracting to the user. I have been unable to find data to support this, so I was hoping someone could shed some insight as to whether this is a good practice or not?

The sidebar is on the right-hand side on 80% of the site, and on the left on the other 20%. This is a standard 960px-width site, non-responsive.

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Can you specify the use of the sidebar? Does it hold menus or banners? Do you have a consistent top navigation throughout the site? Does the sidebar side-switching happen from section to section to the website, or even page to page, without any other motivation than your boss' will? –  edgarator Nov 27 '12 at 5:43
    
Is your boss left-handed ? –  Amit Tomar Nov 27 '12 at 6:13
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Plant on your his computer a script that randomly moves the taskbar to a different edge of the screen every couple of hours. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Nov 27 '12 at 6:24
    
@edgarator > It is just a sidebar for holding widgets. Navigation bar is at the top and consistant. The sidebar only switches on 2/6 of the sections on the site. So it seems pretty much like his will. –  tr3online Nov 27 '12 at 7:16

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

There are different design patterns depending on what kind of content we are talking about. Looking at the article Placing Sidebars: Do You Lean to the Right or the Left? one can read the following:

To most people, where the sidebar navigation is on a website seem like something pretty insignificant. Chances are if you’re an average website user, it’s not something you give much thought to. But in the web design world, it’s something of greater interest, and it brings up some larger ideas about how people look at and use websites that are worth mentioning.

Whether to place the sidebar on the right or the left is an ongoing debate, so there are no right answers to this (no pun intended). At the end of the day, web designers have to take into account many things when determining where to put the sidebar – including how it fits in with the overall look and feel of a website. Placing the sidebar on one side versus the other might just feel like the better choice, so it should go where it feels more comfortable visually.

Here are some basic ideas:

Put your sidebar on the left when…

  • you want to emphasize content, not navigation. Users focus on the center of the web page – where the content is supposed to be. And they do this in an F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content.
  • you want to follow the most used navigation pattern: a global horizontal top-navigation and a subordinate left-navigation depending on the global navigation. This pattern is called the L-shaped navigation.
  • you read from left to right. Seems obvious, but in western countries we read from left to right. If your target audience is in right to left speaking countries, the opposite apply.

Put your sidebar on the right when…

  • The content is a blog. Sidebar go on the right on blogs.
  • you read from left to right, and if you want users to see content first – then place it left and navigation right.

Always consider consistency

But the most important thing to remember is to be consistent. Whichever navigation pattern you chose, consistency is key:

There is nothing more likely to frustrate your users than the navigation constantly changing as the move around the website. Doing this forcing your visitors to navigate a complex maze of menus to get to where they want to be.

It is very important, therefore, that the primary navigation of your website stays the same throughout. Each section may have its own navigation menu, which will of course change, but with the primary navigation in-tact, the user can always return to where they were.

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Great answer. I'm going to suggest not having sidebars move, not that I have some evidence. –  tr3online Nov 27 '12 at 17:18
    
@tr3online Glad I could help you! –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Nov 27 '12 at 17:54

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