Reading The Oversimplification of Mark Hurst, I’m not sure Peter particularly disagreed with any of Mark’s key points. And of course it’s oversimplification, it’s
a) a blog
b) a guru pronouncement
both notorious for going for the pithy over the compete.
Did mark actually cause any harm? I’d say unlikely, certainly not in that post. Navigation is important, but breadcrumbs in their traditional format rarely are seen or used. The recent study on how training user how to use breadcrumbs results in them using them begs the question: who has time to go to every user’s house and teach them to use breadcrumbs?
(Okay, if you’ve got an intranet, this is a woohoo moment for you.)
C’mon now, breadcrumbs are one of the oldest web conventions (as seen in this 1996 Yahoo) so if people aren’t using them now, what makes you think that that might change suddenly?
The breadcrumb is visually weaker than the rest of the page, and often easily overlooked. It also is often labeled “you are here” making it informational as opposed to a object for use. It also causes the user to do some mental gymnastics. The user must hold the site structure, however breifly, in their head to use the breadcrumb, which is probably more thinking than most users want to do mid-task.
The breadcrumb is indeed supplementary, and if real estate is precious, it probably can go, as long as it’s key purpose– widening a search among a large set of objects– is preserved.
What about it’s other theoretical purpose, going back? Trust me, users love their back button, and when in one site usability test session I tried to get them to use something other than the back button by saying “what if I took away your backbutton” they threatened to lynch me. Back is the one thing you can pretty much take off your table of worries, as long as you don’t mess up the back button.
Alternatives to the breadcrumb include the BBCi solution of combining breadcrumbing into the navigation. “see all X” is another way to get users to widen their choices, and causes no mental strain. I’m sure there are many more.
Regarding goals– peter is right about a multiplicity of goals on each page, and that is a conversation for another day. I do believe every page has a heirachy of goals, just as there is a hierachy of users and moreover each section of a page has its own goal– this is the place for answers, this is the place to get more answers, if this answer didn’t suit you, this is the place where you refine your search for answers…. I will have to save this for anotherr day.
it’s about pushing the cognitive work off the user and onto the designer. we cannot rely on simple solutions.