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A client of mine is insisting on two things for a website I am designing:

  1. That every single link is shown in the header – about 10 links or so with no sub-categories. ie. no drop-downs, rollovers, or sub-navigation.

  2. That the header is always visible and static up the top. The content below it will scroll independently but the header is always up the top.

Now, to me, I don't like the idea of the navigation being always up the top. It means I have to go to lengths to reduce the height so that you can see enough content below it on smaller monitors. I believe that users know to find navigation up the top intuitively and don't need to have the nav forced on them at all times. In the client's eyes – this is "easier" – but in mine, it's treating the audience as stupid and smacks of Web 1.0 principles (namely frames).

So my question is – is it bad UX to have a fixed-position header?

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by static you mean fixed? –  Knu May 19 '11 at 6:56
    
@Knu Good catch. I went ahead and edited the question. I think it's pretty clear that he's talking about "fixed" in CSS lingo. –  Patrick McElhaney May 19 '11 at 13:51
    
So there's a consensus that fixed navigation bars (non-scrolling) are bad? Dang, and I just finished kludging the CSS to make mine fixed, with the content properly scrolling, too... –  John C May 19 '11 at 15:35
    
Note that "smaller monitors" may include smartphones these days (down to QVGA 240x320 on Android in the worst case). –  dbkk May 22 '11 at 21:43
    
I must say that in in 2013, my own question which was asked in 2011 seems decidedly quaint. Actually, any UX question which seeks a unequivocal answer will sound a bit silly in time. –  PT Campbell Oct 18 '13 at 0:57

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I agree with your sentiment about static navigation bars. I don't like them. They get in the way and reduce workable screen space.

Whilst 10 menu items is not a great deal and if they're not large would fit in a menu just fine, if it gets any larger, grouping related items in menus is going to be the best approach.

Then again, if out of 10 items, 6 could be grouped under two drop downs, I would push for drop downs. This will also shorten the menu items.

Home | Stores | Computers | Hard Drives | CD Drives | Mice | Keyboards

Should really become:

Home | Stores | Products      |
              | Computers     |
              | Storage     > |
              | Peripherals > |

If the client is a Hands-on Client (#3), then you may need to find evidence to back up your claims and make them see the error of their ways by gently convincing them your method will be better. Also, remind them that they hired you for a reason.

I suppose my sub-question is this; is it easier for the user to see everything at once like the first example? Or is it easier having a dropdown and subcategories? The second may be a neater and more elegant solution. It definitely appeals to me. But what about most users? Is this just more work for them? Having to drill down?

People have short term memories and also they want to be able to quickly find where they need to go. When it comes to navigation, I would rather drill down on two sub menus than try to search for an item in a single list. You could imagine trying to find an urban size house on a 5km long road or navigating to a 500m long road and have 1/10th the house numbers to look at.

Let's say I need to buy a hard drive. I don't want to spend 10 seconds scanning a long list of computer products when I could spend 1 second finding "Storage" and another short mouse click away under "Hard Disk".

What is up to is how granular it needs to be. For example, in this "computer product" example, I wouldn't go so far as to add brands to a sub menu of "Hard Disks", rather leaving that to the product listing itself.

It also depends on how many actual menu items you have, of which you don't seem to have a lot.

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Thanks Nick. Your example is almost exactly what I meant, down to the product categories. I don't like having product categories and "top-level navigation" items in the same section and I am trying to push for a drop-down or similar solution. I suppose my sub-question is this; is it easier for the user to see everything at once like the first example? Or is it easier having a dropdown and subcategories? The second may be a neater and more elegant solution. It definitely appeals to me. But what about most users? Is this just more work for them? Having to drill down? –  PT Campbell May 19 '11 at 4:48
    
I'll add my thoughts on that to the answer. –  Nick Bedford May 19 '11 at 4:58
    
I think depending on the content, if it makes sense then having the drop downs will mean less initial choice - a good thing. –  djlumley May 19 '11 at 5:07
    
Thanks for your responses! As a side comment – I think that the smaller your menu, the more likely that a fixed-position header is going to be a problem. Take this website for example: grid-based.com I wouldn't say that it has bad UX because of its fixed position header. Thanks again! –  PT Campbell May 20 '11 at 5:55

In the context of a mobile device this answer might be also influenced by how much viewing space is available to the user versus how much extra scrolling or navigation they have to do. I think you have to look at it from the purpose of the web page(s) and what the content and interaction is like. To say that there is a hard and fast rule, or to simple argue from the point of view of other similar websites is probably just going to cause more decisions to be made based on opinions.

I suggest looking at the designs and how it might present on different viewports, looking at the navigation and content of the website, and then doing some verification against users or look at usage statistics and see if you can find the best balance.

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This is a common client request and I have no idea where it comes from, as very few web sites actually do this.

Now, is it bad UX? Well, it seems to be putting navigation as a higher priority than the content/functionality of the site. If the nature of the site requires constant navigating between pages, then maybe it makes sense. If, on the other hand, it's to help a person find specific content, then probably not.

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Agree. Twitter and Facebook uses fixed headers but in their case its good because I can quickly access things such as the New Tweet button. If you only use it for global navigation there's little point adding it. If you are worried about visitors with small monitors it's possible to turn of the fixed header feature. –  Tony Bolero Dec 12 '11 at 15:07

I think that you could convince the client that having a fixed navigation for the main menu by simply providing example of big successful online businesses. Use Amazon, Ebay and think of another 3 choices of yours. By having 5 examples you could easily back up your arguement with facts.

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