Navigation Menus: Trends and Examples

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Navigation is the most significant element in web design. Since web-layouts don’t have any physical representation a user can stick to, consistent navigation menu is one of the few design elements which provide users with some sense of orientation and guide them through the site. Users should be able to rely on it which is why designers shouldn’t mess around with it.

That’s why in most cases it’s where simple, intuitive and conventional solutions are usually the best option. However, it doesn’t mean that they need to be boring. One year ago we’ve presented modern approaches of navigation design1. Let’s take a look at what’s different now, which trends one can observe and what ideas you can develop further in your projects.

This article presents recent trends, examples and innovative solutions for design of modern navigation menus. All images are clickable and lead to the sites from which they’ve been taken. We’ve missed something? Definitely! Let us know in the comments!

1. Trend toward “speaking” block navigation

The most significant task a navigation menu has to fulfill is to unambiguously guide the visitors through the different sections of the site. However, often it’s quite hard to communicate the content of a site section within one or two single keywords, particularly if horizontal navigation is in use. That’s why often navigation options aren’t simply listed one after each other using some appropriate keyword (“silent” navigation); instead, designers attempt to concretely explain which options are available and what the visitor should expect from site sections once clicking on corresponding links.

In fact, over the last months we’ve observed a strong trend toward exactly this navigation scheme; and since designers try to initiate a more effective dialogue with visitors we prefer to call it “speaking” navigation — contrary to “silent” navigation based upon the listing of keywords.

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To make the perception of information easier, the navigation is often structured by using blocks of the same height and width; large icons are used quite often, but in most cases the decision whether they are appropriate or not depends on the content of the site and the overall layout. “Soft” hover-effects often support the navigation design by making the browsing more pleasant.

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This navigation scheme can be used not only for the horizontal navigation; it can can be applied to vertical navigation as well.

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2. Mac-style still popular?

One can discuss if the Mac-style is the survivor of the Web 2.0 design attack or it becomes a standalone design element used independently from glossy colorful buttons with 3D-effects. Or maybe it’s just a temporary trends toward grunge style13 — nobody knows, really.

In any case over the last months a number of web-sites integrated Mac-styled-navigation in their web-sites. What’s interesting is that the style is used not only on Apple-related sites, but also on web-sites which aren’t directly related to Mac. Particularly when it comes to design of software products traditional Mac-style is often imitated. Reason: it is visually appealing and looks cool.

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A navigation bar doesn’t need to look exactly like a typical Mac-style-navigation. Variations are also possible.

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“Green” version of the traditional Mac-style menu

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Since navigation bars can’t exist alone and need to be supported by the overall design, colorful one-page-sites with happy talk and overused stock photos designers are being replaced with more decent, serious and calm layouts. And that’s a good thing. However, when using the Mac-style please keep in mind that it shouldn’t be used for the sake of it but has to fit to the overall design.

3. Visually appealing icons are used more often

To communicate navigation options in a more effective way, designers often make use of appealing icons. In such cases it’s important to make sure that the icon is easily recognizable, clearly conveys the message, corresponds to the link it stands for and isn’t too small. Attractive icons are, of course, always preferred to the boring ones.

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Icons can also be hidden into the links; this effect should be used sparingly.

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Icons can be placed on the left-hand side…

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…and on the right-hand side in the sidebar.

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4. Vertical tabs

Although traditional desktop-applications almost never make use of vertical tabs, in the office vertical tabs are used at least as often as horizontal ones. In fact, designers often try it out; and the results can be quite interesting.

Before using vertical tabs you should make sure that it is possible within your layout and you actually have enough area to cover all navigation options on every single page. And, of course, the text is harder to read.

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Tabs on the right-hand side.

5. Handwriting in use.

Recently we already discussed36 the hand-drawing style in modern web-design. And what holds for design layouts also holds for its specific elements — for instance, for navigation.

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6. Experimental solutions

Although it’s usually not the best idea to come up with some strange and/or unique site navigation, designers tend to risk crazy and uncommon experiments. When trying out something new, make sure that you don’t put the usability of your site in danger by creating unnecessary barriers for your visitors. Any navigation menu fails if users can’t make sense out of it.

DesignForFun44 uses icons to help visitors to filter the content they’re looking for. Depending on the clicked icon the background of corresponding links changes. However, the selection of icons may be not the best one as it’s unclear hat icons stand for. Fortunately, title attribute is in use.

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Interesting concept: the hover-effect on jBunti47 depends on the selected month of the year. Warm months are associated with reddish colors, cold months with blueish colors. 12 hover-colors in use.

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Playground Blues49 tries out something completely different; each of 12 site sections has its color in the left sidebar. Once the visitor hovers the mouse arrow over the left-hand sidebar the icons pop up providing visitors with navigation options. Title-attribute is used as well. And to make sure visitors actually can find the navigation the icons pop out like harmonica first time the page is loaded.

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Steven Holl51 is an architect. Which is why his navigation menu looks like an architectural sketch. Each navigation option is given some weight in the map — apparently according to its weight on the site.

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Polkdesign53 uses a calender as the central navigation element. Flash.

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Hopkingdesign55 offers not a tabbed-navigation; it’s a vertical navigation placed at the top of the page. Looks at least unusual.

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No, Adipintilie.eu57 has navigation options also placed at the top; however, these are only external links.

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Flash-based 3D-effect used on Gol.com.pl59. The menu can also be expanded.

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The navigation on Wards-Exchange.co.uk61 fits to the brochure design. Or the other way around.

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On Kriesi.at63 the hovered navigation option is dynamically expanded and shows the icons which illustrate what to expect in the section of the site. The effect is in this case not necessary.

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Not really new, but still beautiful. Folietto.at65 uses the free area effectively and sparingly. You may notice an interesting visual effect when hovering the links.

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inBloom67 has a menu with animation. The beetle doesn’t care what option you choose, it crawls its long path through the navigation tree anyway. This is an example of how animation can be unobtrusive.

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Cobahair.co.uk69 uses only BIG typography…

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…and HelloColor.com71 uses small typography with rainbow colors.

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Carbonstudio.co.uk73 delivers a Flash-based navigation menu with sound-effects. It may sound annoying, but it isn’t: every navigation option has its own sound. If you train yourself a little bit you can even play your own melody while listening to birds in the background.

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Maxandlous.com75 provides hover-effects with visual hints. It looks nice and unusual.

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Scrollomania in all possible directions on Letters-Numbers.com77.

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OK, how can you come up with this one? Nickad79‘s Flash-based construct becomes visible only if the mouse is clicked and remains being clicked.

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Nike81 offers a kind of remote control. To navigate you need to click and drag. While dragging, move the mouse up to move forward, down to move backward, and left/right to turn.

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/03/14/css-based-navigation-menus-modern-solutions/
  2. 2 http://www.evaneckard.com/
  3. 3 http://www.30elm.com/
  4. 4 http://freelanceswitch.com/
  5. 5 http://www.okb.es/
  6. 6 http://pixelresort.com/
  7. 7 http://www.digitalartifex.com/
  8. 8 http://www.panic.com/candybar/
  9. 9 http://lonnroth.info/
  10. 10 http://www.rakacreative.com/
  11. 11 http://www.intereactive.net/
  12. 12 http://worshipleaderinsights.com/
  13. 13 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/29/grunge-style-in-modern-web-design/
  14. 14 http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/
  15. 15 http://www.tenbytwenty.com/
  16. 16 http://www.tenforce.eu/blog/
  17. 17 http://www.newspond.com/
  18. 18 http://www.joyent.com/
  19. 19 http://www.ttthings.com/
  20. 20 http://qrayg.com/learn/
  21. 21 http://lonnroth.info/
  22. 22 http://www.cssbeauty.com
  23. 23 http://www.macrabbit.com
  24. 24 http://thediscountbox.co.uk/
  25. 25 http://tastyplanner.com/
  26. 26 http://www.webinventif.fr/barre-de-navigation-fixe-depliable-et-transparente/
  27. 27 http://nitram-nunca.com/
  28. 28 http://wp-themes.designdisease.com/
  29. 29 http://blog.fluxiom.com/
  30. 30 http://rawnet.com/
  31. 31 http://www.volume5.co.uk/showcase.html
  32. 32 http://dizidesigns.co.uk/
  33. 33 http://www.compacto-design.com/
  34. 34 http://www.prague-guide.fr/
  35. 35 http://miss.ivytan.net/
  36. 36 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/03/hand-drawing-style-in-modern-web-design/
  37. 37 http://satsu.co.uk/
  38. 38 http://www.sarahhyland.com/
  39. 39 http://www.squawkdesign.com/
  40. 40 http://www2.elansnowboards.com/
  41. 41 http://ohiosadd.org/
  42. 42 http://oink.elrellano.com/
  43. 43 http://www.cassysdesign.ro/
  44. 44 http://designforfun.com/portfolio.php
  45. 45 http://designforfun.com/portfolio.php
  46. 46 http://designforfun.com/portfolio.php
  47. 47 http://done.jbunti.com/
  48. 48 http://done.jbunti.com/
  49. 49 http://www.playgroundblues.com/
  50. 50 http://www.playgroundblues.com/
  51. 51 http://www.stevenholl.com/
  52. 52 http://www.stevenholl.com/
  53. 53 http://www.polkdesign.net
  54. 54 http://www.polkdesign.net
  55. 55 http://www.hopkingdesign.com/
  56. 56 http://www.hopkingdesign.com/
  57. 57 http://www.adipintilie.eu/
  58. 58 http://www.adipintilie.eu/
  59. 59 http://www.gol.com.pl/
  60. 60 http://www.gol.com.pl/
  61. 61 http://www.wards-exchange.co.uk/
  62. 62 http://www.wards-exchange.co.uk/
  63. 63 http://www.kriesi.at/
  64. 64 http://www.kriesi.at/
  65. 65 http://folietto.at
  66. 66 http://folietto.at
  67. 67 http://www.inbloomproductions.com
  68. 68 http://www.inbloomproductions.com
  69. 69 http://www.cobahair.co.uk
  70. 70 http://www.cobahair.co.uk
  71. 71 http://www.hellocolor.com
  72. 72 http://www.hellocolor.com
  73. 73 http://www.carbonstudio.co.uk/
  74. 74 http://www.carbonstudio.co.uk/
  75. 75 http://www.maxandlous.com/
  76. 76 http://www.maxandlous.com/
  77. 77 http://www.letters-numbers.com/
  78. 78 http://www.letters-numbers.com/
  79. 79 http://www.nickad.com/
  80. 80 http://www.nickad.com/
  81. 81 http://www.nike.com/jumpman23/xx3/
  82. 82 http://www.nike.com/jumpman23/xx3/

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

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  1. 1

    I like the collection and it opens a way of designing….

    -1
  2. 152

    This is a great collection. Thanks for posting. I also liked the right column prompts I came across at this design studio’s site: Splendor Design Group.

    -1
  3. 303

    Thanks ,
    Really awesome menus shared in this article i where inspired with this menus and anytime in any my new website project i like to use this menus thanks ………

    -1
  4. 454

    Would you say that “speaking to navigation” is a good solution for a global health care company targeting health care professionals? It has been proposed by an agency, but I am looking for a second opinion…

    -1
  5. 605

    paparao vanapalli

    June 10, 2010 2:22 am

    Nice Collection! Thank u

    5
  6. 756

    letters-numbers.com is maybe one of the worst websites I have ever seen. The designer has lost sight of what usability is all about and is trying too hard to impress other designers…

    his menu on the right hand side looks like a google ad, which makes the initial impression of the website make it seem like it isn’t a legit site, and makes me think ‘avoid this site, I’m going to get ad-ware if I stay here…’

    6
  7. 907

    Have to agree with Ryan on this one.

    0
  8. 1058

    Although the navigation and usability at letters-numbers.com could do with re-thinking, I find it extremely hard to believe that this is one of the worst websites you have ever seen, Ryan. There are a million worse sites both on the navigation and design fronts. Steve Rura’s work is actually pretty good!

    -1
  9. 1209

    hello syed.

    -2

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