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I'm in the process of designing the navigation for a web application.

I have a few different types of views. One is a map, the others are all fairly similar and are like a standard web page.

Mapping View:

With the mapping page, the map's size scales based on the viewport, but doesn't scroll. The secondary navigation however does. My first idea was to position the navigation on the right hand side so that it was easy to understand the scroll bar was related to the navigation when scrolling.

Mapping View

Other Views:

With the other pages, they've very much traditional web pages with a few secondary navigation items and a lot of content (tables, forms etc). It makes sense to have the navigation on the left hand side — this is where a user expects it to be.

Other Views

My dilemma is whether or not having the navigation in different positions (although both positions have very valid reasoning) will impede the user experience, and overall usability of the site. Users will be entering other views from the mapping screen so the navigation items may constantly be moving making it harder for users to navigate (opposite sides of the site).

If I do put the secondary navigation on a consistent side, then which side should it be on? Putting it on the left hand side gives the map view an odd feeling, but so does putting it on the right hand side for the other views.

Any advice, or resources are appreciated.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would certainly make sure the navigation is in the same place throughout the site; you don't want it to be jumping around from left to right.

You've made a good case for right-hand navigation for this application so I would be tempted to go with that. Having the nav on the right gives the content more prominence (for L-to-R reading languages anyway) plus as the majority of people are right-handed it could be said it is more natural for the nav to be on the right as that's where the mouse is. (See: Fitt's Law)

Provided the navigation is clear and obvious and it isn't going to be lost if the window size is shrunk then I'd go with right-hand nav. It's probably one for usability testing though to check it's still usable and makes sense to the users.

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Do you know if there are studies about where the mouse is on the screen for for the left vs. right handed people? I am curious to know if right handed people in fact have it on the right. –  Anna Rouben Oct 9 '12 at 21:34
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Navigation is the most important part of your website. Keep it in the same place.

Imagine if every time you got in your car, your GPS navigator moved to a different side of the car.

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I'm not talking about moving the primary navigation at all, that would be silly. I'm talking about whether or not it makes sense to move secondary navigation in which the content, the use, and the actions expected differ. –  djlumley May 19 '11 at 5:25
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