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 911 from 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?

  • 2
    I think this is probably a duplicate of one of these (hover to get the heading - not sure if I can change the link text?): ux.stackexchange.com/questions/2317/… or ux.stackexchange.com/questions/8071/… or ux.stackexchange.com/questions/3281/… Commented Jul 14, 2011 at 16:24
  • @Roger Good finds. I don't think this is a duplicate -- at least not an exact duplicate -- of those other questions. But the second and third are poorly written duplicates of the first; I've marked them as such. Commented Jul 14, 2011 at 18:11
  • @Patrick Thanks, I didn't think this was a duplicate of any of those questions simply because this deals with specifics of website navigation, which may be different to other types of applications. Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 8:50

2 Answers 2


As well as the links above to other questions, you should consider faceted search which is as much about navigating a hierarchy as just searching, and again there was a question on ux se about faceted search.

For a feature rich implementation of faceted search and navigation, see http://mspace.fm/ and try the demo button at top right.


Faceted search example is a neat one.

From the example given in the query. Am wondering why have so much navigation. Why not just show the entire list categorized by a single dominant order and then use an advanced filter that lets you zero down on the right content.

For instance the list of contents is originally ordered by price. The user has to use a filter to zero down on other dimensions such as Nationality, Make, Type, Variations etc. This would help the user reach the variations quickly without going through the hierrarchy.

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