In general, your website’s navigation is not the place to show off your creativity and ability to think outside the box. I always think it’s like an elevator. You step into the elevator and find a cool slideshow on the wall, or a quilted and beaded interior, or a dropped ceiling with interesting lights and you’ll be wowed by the creativity of the designer. You step in and have to hunt for the buttons and you’ll be irritated.
Just so, the navigation of your site is not generally the place to impress people with your flair. It’s the place to anticipate where people’s eyes and hands will naturally head for the information they want. Anticipating your visitors’ desires and meeting them without requiring much effort from them — that’s the way you want your navigation to go.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t do interesting things with your navigation, within those limits. Here are some examples from websites we’re currently working on.
Here’s a classic navigation bar, but the buttons turn red when you hover over them.
Another classic nav bar, but the drop down menu creates a nice little box with a bit of a shadow.
If you have a classic navigation bar, you can do something interesting with the secondary navigation without threatening usability. In this mock up, designer Tom Hapgood has added callouts for sections that are especially important to the site owners. Once the site is built, the blue banners at the bottom will respond to mouseover and draw attention to additional sections of the site.
Another example of interesting secondary navigation is seen often enough now that it’s on its way to becoming a classic means of secondary navigation. Designer Darren Moore of TitusD has the main navigation across the top, but puts spotlight boxes under the header to bring visitors to key areas.
In none of these cases is the navigation intrusive, in no case does it lessen the usability of the site, and in no case will it be a problem if some visitors fail to use mouseover. These jazzed up navigation designs do not, in other words, make people track down the elevator buttons behind a sliding ceiling panel.
If you want something out of the ordinary for your site’s navigation, consider usability as well as snazziness.