Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Breadcrumb Navigation Increasingly Useful

The role and benefits of breadcrumb navigation ...

"Breadcrumbs use a single line of text to show a page's location in the site hierarchy. While secondary, this navigation technique is increasingly beneficial to users.

Not all design decisions are a matter of website survival. Of course, it's important to get the big things right, or you won't have any users. But getting the small things right enhances usability and fosters user comfort. A perfect example here is the breadcrumb trail.

Breadcrumbs won't help a site answer users' questions or fix a hopelessly confused information architecture. All that breadcrumbs do is make it easier for users to move around the site, assuming its content and overall structure make sense. That's sufficient contribution for something that takes up only one line in the design.

Breadcrumbs have always been a secondary navigation aid. They share this humble status with site maps. To navigate, site visitors mainly use the primary menus and the search box, which are certainly more important for usability. But from time to time, people do turn to the site map or the breadcrumbs, particularly when the main navigation doesn't quite meet their needs.

Despite their secondary status, I've recommended breadcrumbs since 1995 for a few simple reasons:

Breadcrumbs show people their current location relative to higher-level concepts, helping them understand where they are in relation to the rest of the site.

Breadcrumbs afford one-click access to higher site levels and thus rescue users who parachute into very specific but inappropriate destinations through search or deep links.
Breadcrumbs never cause problems in user testing: people might overlook this small design element, but they never misinterpret breadcrumb trails or have trouble operating them.
Breadcrumbs take up very little space on the page.

So, despite the merely mid-sized benefits, the overall cost-benefit analysis comes out quite strongly in favor of breadcrumbs. Their downside is incredibly small: while they do take up space, that space is minute. When you divide a mid-sized numerator by a tiny denominator, the resulting fraction is substantial.

The main argument against breadcrumbs is that many users overlook them. So, why do something that only benefits a minority?

As I've long argued, breadcrumbs are different than most other little-used design elements for the simple reason that they don't hurt users who ignore them."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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