Navigation design

Authors of hypertextual pieces, such as webtexts, are challenged to find ways to orient readers in order to help them read efficiently and find their way around the text (Landow, 1989). Readers can become “lost in hyperspace”—a disorienting experience in which readers cannot determine where they are in relation to the information contained in the text, or how to return to a previously viewed node or find a node they think exists (Conklin, 1987). A significant method for enhancing reader orientation includes the incorporation of an overview or introductory node, textual or graphical webviews, and explicit navigation directions—instructions for moving through the text.

An effectively designed textual overview (often labeled “overview,” “starting point,” or “introduction”) provides a context and exigence for the main argument, much like a print-based introduction. However, distinct from a print-based introduction, a web-based overview will also provide form-based information such as a “webview”—a textual or visual representation of the structure of the text—as well as directions for navigating the text. Visual representations—or “webviews” of the structure within the hypertext, such as concept or site maps, and directories (for example, a menu bar) are immediately accessible to readers and help readers understand their current location within the structure of information. Moreover, a consistent visual design strategy (e.g., consistent placement of navigation links within each node or a consistent use of color) provides readers with cues for navigating the text (see the sub-section on visual design for further information regarding this strategy). Hypertext authors may flaunt conventions associated with clear navigation for a specific rhetorical effect such as purposely creating an exploratory or disorienting reading experience enacted by the form, several examples of which exist in hypertext fiction. In general, however, scholars promote facilitating navigation and preventing disorientation as a rule of thumb (Carter, 1997, p. 44).

A majority of “rhetorics” of online writing emphasize several aspects of navigation design—in addition to those discussed directly in this section—that contribute to the construction of an effective web-based presentation, including: strategies for constructing links, nodes, and overall visual design. While all are inter-related (a clear link strategy, for example, contributes to a solid navigation design as the discussion below will show), each can be explored for their specific role in helping to construct a “reader-friendly” text. Question 7 in Category B of the assessment tool is designed to evaluate the extent to which webtexts incorporate an effective navigation design:

Question 7: Navigational design

a) Overview

b) Textual or graphical webviews

c) Navigation directions