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Website Navigation Design 2021: 5 Top Trends and Tactics

Emerging from a year in which online experiences have served as the primary vehicle for engaging with the world, the bar is high for websites that get it right, and patience is low for confusion and clutter.
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More so than ever before, users appreciate excellent web experiences that spark a bit of joy and easily direct them to the information that they need. 

Here are 5 website navigation design trends that we’re on top of at Solid Digital.

1. Radical Simplicity

Simple and streamlined is in. 

Displaying key navigation terms (such as Home, About, Services, and Contact) across the top of a web page followed by secondary dropdown menus that often contain tertiary sub menus, is no longer the standard expectation for navigation. 

The current thinking is that simplicity sparks engagement and that displaying access to all of a site’s content right on the front page is a static approach to navigation that could actually lead to a version of analysis paralysis in which too many choices create confusion rather than driving action. 

With a focus on aesthetically engaging web experiences that align with the brand’s identity, many marketers are opting for a mobile first menu on the home page.

It remains a best practice, however, as a guidepost for a user who might get lost while navigating a site, to incorporate into the footer the navigation that had previously appeared at the top of the page.

2. Contextual Links and Website Navigation

As sites move away from a static top navigation bar, the trend is toward funneling content in a more strategic way that aligns with user journeys. 

With a focus on storytelling, navigational links are now appearing within context. As users scroll carefully curated and visually appealing content, they are provided with opportunities to seek more information on topics that they may not have known they wanted to learn more about.

Thinking about the customer journey on the website from a sales and marketing perspective, contextual links vastly expand opportunities to easily engage, versus the traditional expectation that users would scroll back to the top of the page and click “Contact Us.”

3. Mobile First Design

The limitations associated with designing sites for mobile drove web designers to focus on increasingly greater levels of simplicity, and many of the resulting mobile design solutions have circled back to desktop navigation. 

The “hamburger” icon, which first emerged as a mobile solution, is increasingly appearing on desktop designs. Leveraging this compact little icon, has allowed for a greater messaging and branding impact, without the housekeeping interference of the top nav.

4. Insertion of the Brand Voice into Navigation

There are varying degrees to which sites are departing from the generic navigation labels and moving toward more descriptive or conversational terms and a tone that better reflects the brand. 

From “About” to “About Us” is a small step on a continuum toward a more engaging approach to navigation. We’re seeing a far greater reliance on friendlier alternatives in website navigation examples such as,  “Who We Are,” or “Get to Know Us.”

Similarly, the generic “Services” tab is trending toward the likes of “How We Help,” “What We Do,” or “Problems We Solve.”

5. Object Oriented User Experience (OOUX)

Popularized by Sophia V. Prater, object-oriented UX is an approach to web navigation that emphasizes the value of designing websites and web pages that users can navigate intuitively, based on the context of the objects on the page. Prater equates a website’s top navigation bar to a building’s fire escape — part of the structure that’s there if needed, but not intended to be regularly relied upon.

OOUX deploys real-world objects with which an audience is very familiar as navigational tools. An example of OOUX for a website designed for classroom teachers would be contextual calls to action or navigation that was indicated by items such as gradebooks, classrooms, students, raised hands, or maps.

The underlying thread of all of these website navigation trends is the realization that websites have evolved in many new directions, away from their original function as a digital warehouse of information and toward a living, breathing representation of your brand. 

As such, the trends worth noting are those that contribute to memorable experiences that are engaging, free of frustration, and value added.

Here at Solid Digital, object-oriented UX, radical simplicity, and unique twists on trends that align with our clients’ brands are at the heart of how we work. Interested in continuing the conversation? Let us know and we’ll be in touch!

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