As a web developer, I'm often given designs that look good from the web designer, but don't necessarily function as well as they should. This is especially true for navigation elements, increasingly so when a user has to go through numerous different levels of categorisation or taxonomy in order to find something. This is the biggest problem when a user knows what they're looking for already, but isn't using a search feature (for whatever reason at all).
For example (and this is a fictitious example), if I had a website that was an encyclopaedia of sorts about cars, then this would be very difficult. If we take a standard website navigation bar, how would we populate it? We could have, on the main navigation, links such as
American | British | German | Japanese that would then drop down to individual brands such as
Opel/Vauxhall | Porsche | Volkswagen. However, in these brands the cars also have types, such as
Coupes | Compacts | Convertibles and then we come to the actual "make" of the car, such as the
Porsche. Under the make of the car, there are also variations like
Carerra | Sport| GT.
The example shows that the cars can be divided and categorised in many different ways which means that users can get to the information in many different ways also. The example also shows though, that the navigation could be rearranged numerous times and still be as complex. The sheer mass of information could confuse a user who only wants to get to one piece of content, and the actual implementation of the menu could be visually and technically messy and obstructive.
So, my question is this: When not searching, what is the best way to allow users to navigate through a large amount of information on a website that is categorised in numerous ways?