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I'm working on overhauling an interface that has two clearly defined levels of navigation, and then one murky level. Clicking on the first level will reveal sub-options which correspond to that initial heading. Mousing over these sub-options will reveal vertical menus containing further pages per sub-option.

The problem is, the sub-options themselves do not meaningfully connect to any of their menu "children". In fact, clicking on one of these menu headings will take you to an entirely different location. In an attempt to redesign this system into a tabbed interface with an always-displayed horizontal outlining of all navigation links, I find myself unsure how to solve this problem.

Do I morph the second-level choices (the previous menu headings) into more general pages (e.g. Programs and Assessments instead of SpecificDepartmentHere's Program Activity) with unfortunately minimal display in the content pane before the user reaches the third level? Or do I promote the children to the second level, running the risk of overloading a user with choices?

I feel as though the first option is best for a new user, but the experienced ones might soon find it as another screen to click through before reaching that last level.

I apologize if this is hard to envision, or if my language is unrefined to adequately describe the situation. I'm definitely green at this.

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Perhaps some screenshots/sketches would be useful? By "do not meaningfully connect" do you mean they are not children but related, or that they are neither children nor related? Is it similar to how Guardian works: you click UK, and the links to 'Business', 'Health', etc are presented as children, even though they are not. –  Brendon Jun 18 '13 at 20:39
    
They are not children, but very tangentially related. I apologize for my lack of screenshots at this time. –  Rydash Jun 18 '13 at 20:54
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I'm having a hell of a time trying to visualize your problem. I just can't get my head around it, so I'm sorry but I can't be of any help. Please try and add some images describing the current situation, the problem you're trying to solve, and a possible solution you already tried. –  Koen Lageveen Jun 20 '13 at 15:11
    
Seconding all these guys. Seriously, dude. Give us sketches. –  JClaussFTW Jun 27 '13 at 8:47
    
Even though you can't post them directly, if you upload screen shots and post the links, a moderator can edit your post to show them inline. –  norabora Jun 28 '13 at 0:37

1 Answer 1

See where your application fits in the different navigation patterns.

Specifically, consider questions like this:

  • Are all items at the third level similar? For example, every question could have many comments. This would imply the same structure would be used at the third level.
  • Are the items at the third level different depending on the second level? For example, one second level item could be products to browse while another second level could be the company contact info. This would imply the third level should be implemented differently depending on context, and may not need to be part of the main navigation for consistency.

If you can't see it clearly, use card sorting. Try setting the cards in front of someone unfamiliar with the application and see how they group the items. You may find a pattern that you didn't previously see.

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