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I've noticed a massive trend with sites making their navigation menus persistent (always visible when the user scrolls), and am considering doing it on a site I'm working on (it may likely have fairly long articles).

I was pretty sold on doing persistent nav, but when I went to double check on here, I saw a few answers that advised against it (namely, the answers on Fixed-position header and menu on a web page -- is that okay? and When do you apply a persistent navigation - is there a minimum page length? ).

Why are such a massive amount of websites doing it now? Has anything changed to make this good UX, or are designers just following a trend?

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I think those questions were before many sites starting doing this... now it's very common. –  you786 Jun 7 '13 at 6:06
    
That's why I'm so curious! Like I asked in my question... has something changed or are they just being trendy? –  Nathron Jun 7 '13 at 6:15
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There is some discussion about such fixed navigation over on MetaStackOverflow where periodically someone requests that the StackExchange sites implement such a feature. It's not that well received a request, but makes some interesting reading. (There are related questions posted about it in the right-sidebar of that post too. It gets suggested quite often really.) –  JonW Jun 7 '13 at 8:49
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It's hard to talk about "good UX". It's much easier to make a claim for "appropriate"... –  Alex Feinman Jun 7 '13 at 15:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is obviously beneficial to have the navigation always visible, especially if your website has long-scrolling pages of content. Important context is always present to the user, and navigation is easier.

The discussions you linked to don't really say "persistent navigation is always bad". However, they do point out some potential drawbacks:

  • It may take up too much screen real estate, especially on small screens.
  • It could be distracting if it is too intrusive.

Those are certainly issues to keep in mind. But if it makes sense for your site and is done well, there is no reason not to do it.

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As screen sizes got larger, there is more room available and the fixed navigation elements are less of a problem. Also mobile browsers support fixed navigation nowadays, while a couple of years ago they didn't.

If you want to use fixed navigation, it can be a good idea to use media queries to disable the fixed navigation on smaller screens, solving the problem that they take up too much of the screen. And in general, don't make the fixed menu's too big.

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I would say that there is a way to get most of the benefits of persistent navigation and avoid the issue of limited screen real estate.

Have the navigation be non-persistent, until the user scrolls up even a little bit. Then it pops back up at the top of the screen.

Ex. User scrolls down 10 pages, leaving the navigation behind. He/she then scrolls up 5 pixels and it quickly pops into view.

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That is a very interesting take on it (Google does it with their Google Now app). My only worry is that people might take their focus off of the content to look at the suddenly visible nav bar, whereas a constantly visible bar would be less of a shock. A properly done transition might combat that, though. –  Nathron Jun 12 '13 at 5:28

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