University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Vertical vs Horizontal Global Navigation (any usability studies?)

Are there any case studies or data on the usability of vertical navigation on higher education websites? I'm referring to vertical global navigation, which would also include vertical navigation for lower level sites. 

The only references I came across (not specific to higher ed) are this article http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/01/11/the-case-against-vertica... and this blog post - http://www.usefulusability.com/main-navigation-types-and-usability-.... Is there more definitive information out there? I'm trying to build a case against going with a new site design that features vertical navigation.

The biggest drawback I see for implementing vertical global navigation is poor usability. Given the large amount of content typically found on a higher ed sites, need to serve multiple audiences, many lower level pages I think it's hard to navigate sites with vertical nav. As you get deeper into lower level department sites the navigation tends to extend further down the page which might force you to scroll up or down on the page to access the page content or links in the vertical navigation. 

Appreciate any thoughts or suggestions.

Thanks,

Doug

Tags: IA, experience, usability, user

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I'll look forward to answers as they come in on this one- we have both horizontal and vertical nav...........

Thanks Sarah. Just to clarify, I'm talking about just a vertical navigation for global nav and subsite nav. My feeling is that most visitors to higher ed sites are use to a IA convention of having a horizontal global primary nav and then a vertical subsite navigation once you get level pages off the homepage, e.g., Admission, Academics, Campus Life, and vertical nav for lower level department pages.

Hope this makes sense. There are sites out there that use an entirely vertical navigation (with no horizontal nav for global nav links) so I'm looking for any usability data that takes about the pros and cons of this approach.

Thanks,

Doug

HMM. I see. Yes, we have a vertical nav on our homepage currently, but its not global and we are actually looking to remove it now. If I run across any global-level usability stuff in my travels, I'll know where to post it!

I don't know of any specific studies, but I agree that the majority of higher ed sites use horizontal primary and vertical secondary navs. This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately as we update our core templates to build in responsive features. I don't think a combined global and secondary vertical nav would work well. Depending on the design it could be too much to scan and gets in the way of valuable real estate.

Our global nav is horizontal and is featured on every single page. Individual sites, such as this one,  have a title bar, and then their own primary horizontal nav below it. Within each main section, or tab, there is a vertical nav which can support up to two levels. I have sometimes wondered if having two horizontal navs would be confusing, but so far informal and anecdotal data shows that it works fairly well. I'm also working to remove dropdown/flyout menus across the board because in a lot of cases its overkill, and is hard to use on mobile/touch devices.

tl;dr - a vertical global nav for the whole site doesn't make much sense IMHO. I think a horizontal layout, combined with a visual tab metaphor, is the way to go.

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