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The question is, should the header/navigation of the site always be the same - no exceptions. Or should it generally be the same but allow for some exceptions depending on the page? Or is there another school of thought?

There seems to be 2 opinions from my colleages:

  1. It should be consistent on the majority of the pages, but it should not be a written rule, if the page would do better with a different header/navigation (or dropping it all together) then do what makes the page work better.
  2. It should always be the same no exceptions - it is too jarring for the user who will then become confused and feel like they have left the site.

What are your opinions?

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This is not a real question - this site is for asking specific questions and expecting specific answers. It is not a site for polls. –  Charles Boyung Mar 29 '11 at 13:37
    
@charles I saw a question set up exactly like this on stack overflow about a year ago with high participation, so I thought it was fine. –  JD Isaacks Mar 29 '11 at 13:45
    
Stack Overflow a year ago is quite different than Stack Overflow now, and definitely different than the SE sites. This kind of question would get closed there quite quickly now (as it should have been then as well, but that's a different topic entirely). –  Charles Boyung Mar 29 '11 at 13:50
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@charles - I will delete my yes or no answers and change the question to not be a poll then. –  JD Isaacks Mar 29 '11 at 14:05
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5 Answers

I think you're being overly prescriptive asking if the header should remain the same or not, because the answer to that, as with so many specific design questions is, it depends. It might well serve the specific goals of any given design that it be persistent, or not.

However, if you were to talk about global navigation instead of a header, then the answer would most certainly be yes in most cases. Global navigation is often placed in the header, but just as easily can end up in a sidebar or, occasionally, only in a footer. Often headers change based on colour palettes or in specific categories or whatnot.

In short, you need some sort of anchor for users and this is usually in the form of core, key places within your IA that users will need to get to from anywhere in the site, like home, contact, etc. It's kind of restricting to think that this is always necessarily in the header.

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As @jameswanless mentioned, you should distinguish between the UI and the graphics. Significant visual differences in the header on different pages are relatively common, and can be a useful tool. Significant differences in UI are rare, and I think it's a good rule of thumb that the header stay the same.

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I agree, it is a good rule of them, however I think there should be exceptions. For example, most of the pages on StackOverflow have the same header with links like "questions, tags, users, etc." However the chat and careers part of the site do not have this. It does not make sense to put them on those pages. (Granted those are subdomains but are still part of the site and would make the same sense as if they were stackoverflow.com/chat instead of chat.stackoverflow.com.) Do you agree? –  JD Isaacks Mar 29 '11 at 18:25
    
I'm not sure how to treat this example. I can't treat as "header" something that's located below the navigation that led me to it. It's kind of a secondary header for the pages inside it. Also, it all depends on how you define the scope of your website - URLs are too technical to be any indication. You can say that page X is so different from the rest, that it stands alone, and is not bound by the conventions, whether UI or look-and-feel, of the others. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 29 '11 at 18:44
    
@John - according to that reasoning ui.stackexchange.com and gaming.stackexchange.com are part of the same site. You don't think that's the case, do you? Chat and careers are their own completely separate (yet related, at least in the case of chat) sites. –  Charles Boyung Mar 30 '11 at 16:33
    
@Charles, I will meet you have way, I can accept that careers is a separate site but chat, come one, like you said its related, has the same domain (granted adds a subdomain) and even sports the same logo. In fact, this is the exact type of situation I was referring to when I said special cases. (I just usually prefer not to use subdomains myself). –  JD Isaacks Mar 30 '11 at 17:23
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I agree that keeping the site navigation structure the same in most instances, but think there are specific instances when you can or SHOULD change the navigation.

  1. Landing Pages - SHOULD have different navigation than the rest of the site. They are not found easily unless via a search and as the entry point into a conversion funnel that difference is not only ok, but designed on purpose to increase conversions (similar, but different to the e-commerce example above which removes navigation)
  2. Silo'd content areas - there is a chance you have a site that discusses numerous topics - in that case a different main menu may make sense on sub-topics
  3. Unique home page - if you are designing a home page to be as unique as possible to garner attention or drive traffic internally - a unique home page navigation system (might not be a true menu) could be in-order as long as subpages follow the same fixed navigation (except in cases as referenced in #2 where the homepage is really pushing you into completely different directions)
  4. E-Commerce - as mentioned above
  5. Huge Sites (#2 is a sub-section) - specifically news sites

Some examples of sites with differing navigation:

  1. Economist.com vs. Economist.com/world
  2. NYTimes.com and almost any subpage
  3. Microsoft.com and almost any subsection
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There is no «always» in design, i.e. no general principles that are right all the time. Every best practice/rule/imperative/… has its exceptions. You should know when and, most important, why to break them, though. If there are highly compelling reasons for deviating from something: do it. But ensure that the benefit from breaking the rule is significantly higher than keeping with it – i.e. prototype and test.

My gut vote for changing global site navigation: try not to do it (breaking both people's motoric memory and sense of orientation is not very considerate). But if you really have strong reasons, make the change really obvious and significant.

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Keeping the global header or nav the same across the platform is a great practice, so to not jarr the user as you have already mentioned. However, there would be some special cases where I would recommend using a different (reduced) header all-together.

A great example of this is an E-Commerce site in which the user enters the checkout funnel. When this happens, it is good business practice to eliminate as many "exit" points as possible to ultimately increase conversion. For this reason, sites like Amazon.com have foregone their typical global nav and footer, for a reduced version that simply allows viewing your cart and login credentials and not much else. Again, this is so the chances of the user exiting the checkout funnel, statistically, drastically deceases.

Other situations may apply, but this is one area where I would agree is a great practice to change the header/nav.

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I disagree with your eCommerce example on the grounds that removing a way back to the site irritates users far more than it helps you finish a sale. There is no evidence that eliminating "exit" points really adds to a higher conversion rate. Once a user decides to check out, why would having the header there be an added incentive to not finish the order? It makes absolutely no sense. If I end up not wanting to finish the order, I'm just going to close the browser or tab or just go to another URL entirely. Header or not makes no difference. –  Charles Boyung Mar 30 '11 at 16:29
    
In fact, I have evidence that it can lower overall sales because it makes it that much harder for someone to say "oh, I wanted to get this too, let me just add that to my order as well". Now it's "I wanted this, but I don't want to figure out how to get back to add it, so I'll just buy it somewhere else when I get the chance". –  Charles Boyung Mar 30 '11 at 16:29
    
Remember - just because Amazon does something doesn't mean it is good usability or even good business practice. –  Charles Boyung Mar 30 '11 at 16:31
    
@Charles, I think Yasir is right. Eliminating navigation doesn't mean that you can't add items, usually you can add items, and they're even offered as an upsale attempt. It does mean you can't easily get out of the purchase process. Also - you said you have "evidence"? The speculations you offer might make sense, but that's hardly evidence. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 30 '11 at 18:14
    
@Vitaly - I have done studies on this in the past. And what evidence is there that removing header/footer increases conversion? There is absolutely none. It is all conjecture, and incredibly flawed conjecture at that. –  Charles Boyung Mar 30 '11 at 18:50
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