Doign a bit of research,a dn found this unaswered question on ia-uk.co.uk, “I’ve noticed that most sites can […]

Doign a bit of research,a dn found this unaswered question on ia-uk.co.uk,

“I’ve noticed that most sites can deal with up to three levels of navigation before they ditch the nav bars and resort to breadcrumbs. Are there any examples of navigation devices/bars/etc with four or five levels out there?”

It does seem to be essentially unsolvable.


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  1. 1
    Joshua Kaufman

    Are there any examples of navigation devices/bars/etc with four or five levels out there?

    There are, but they don’t work well. This is because HTML/CSS isn’t well suited for navigation devices with 4+ levels. At that point, the information design often becomes too complex to be usable. JavaScript/DOM and Flash are much better tools for creating complex navigation systems.

  2. 2
    Austin Govella

    I think it has more to do with limited screen real estate with poor resolution than an inherent inability HTML and CSS to handle that many levels.

    And even with Flash or DHTML (or any other utopian technology) one would be had-pressed to jump the information design hurdles necessary to clearly and cogently display 4-5 navigation levels.

    I’m trying to think about ways I navigate my environment, and although I may occasionally use up to five interfaces at once, I can’t think of any interfaces in my environment that show five levels of navigation.

    Can you think of any examples outside of web design that show five levels?

  3. 3

    We worked around this issue by looking at the reason why there is more than 3 levels of information. At some point the user is going to be very specific as to what they are looking for, and we design the interface to focus on it. For example, Let’s say my client is Sony. They have so many divisions: electronics, music, movies. I start going down the path of Movies, then I select “Classics”. At this point I would shift the interface to focus on the Classics and remove electronics and music. If I go deeper, say I am looking at one particular movie, we would launch a microsite.

    Other approaches I’ve seen is the use of brand named sites. For example, I go to “nicorette.com” from the GlaksoSmithKline’s web site.

  4. 4

    Actually, I haven’t seen many sitemaps that handle deep hierarchies well either. Do you have an example of one that shows say, 8 levels of classification?

  5. 6

    The current trend seems to be to peel-off the higher levels of navigation, using the argument that a user is more focused and closer to their goal the deeper they go, and you can always easily show the next and previous levels.

    You could do some interesting things in flash, but the problem becomes making it easy to get back (within the nav) to where you are.

    as an aside: Does anyone else have problem selecting text on this page? I can’t select just the URL above, it always starts the selection near the top.

  6. 7

    Well, what if we broaden the context a bit? Give an example of any organization system where users typically deal with more than four levels of navigation, and must access single things by drilling down from the top.

  7. 8
    Paul Nattress

    Thanks for helping to shed light on this conundrum!

    It seems that we have very little screen real estate to put many levels of nav on a page. The other option is to drop the higher levels of nav to make way for the lower levels – whether this is done statically or dynamically using CSS/DHTML or Flash is the designer’s preference.

    However, whilst redesigning my creative writing site, I found that I could drop a level of navigation completely if I simply grouped menu items in categories in the nav bar. See an example on this page http://www.oneofus.co.uk/writing_tips/index.htm.

  8. 9

    Any geographical navigation task presents this sort of problem. Imagine driving to a friends house. This is in effect a very ‘deep’ navigation, yet most people can handle this quite easily.

    It seems that the trick in this context is to associate navigational choices with landmarks, ie: left at the church, straight on till the top of the hill. hmmm, not sure how that translates, but interesting non the less.

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