Think about website navigation differently.
It’s not about “the navigation bar,” or that “hamburger menu.” It’s also not about your departments, lines of business, or company politics. Frankly, it’s not even about your products and services.
It is about what your customer wants to do on your site, otherwise known as: customer intention(s).
Identifying customer intentions
Navigation is the tool your customer uses to find their way around your digital properties. The business assumption is often that customers come to your site to buy whatever you’re offering. Maybe. It’s what you want them to do. But what you want someone to do, and what they actually do, are often very different.
To remedy this potential mismatch, and way before designing your website’s navigation and content structure, you’ll want to ask (hopefully through some form of customer research): What do my customers’ intend to do on my site? How do I serve these intentions? How can my product or service help with those intentions?
The answers to these questions are often different from the simple assumption that “a customer is here to buy stuff.”
Fitting customers’ intentions into my business ecosystem
Once you’ve identified what your customers’ intentions are on your site, you’ll need to build a bridge between their intentions and your offerings. This often involves thinking through how the identified customer intentions connect to your larger business ecosystem. Draw what it looks like.
It’s conceptual, abstract work, but creating a systematic framework for integrating customer intentions into your business ecosystem will help you create a navigation structure that promotes more human, organic conversation with your customers across your digital presence.
Designing the conversation with customer intentions
Customer intentions are served best through lateral website navigation (i.e. navigation across web pages), while quantitative metrics (i.e. what do users click on the most) serve as the guideposts for hierarchical navigation (i.e. the nav menu/bar).
By designing each page to meet customer intentions you’re designing an organic flow. You’re helping customers meet information based on how they think, what they need, and what they intend to do, rather than how your business is structured. You’re also not forcing the user to “navigate” your hierarchy, rather you help them explore based on what they need. This allows for organic conversation to emerge.
Maintaining through governance
For simple sites, you can design purely for customer intentions. The customer can easily move around the digital property without getting lost.
In complex sites, you’ll need to couple hierarchical and lateral website navigation with a solid interaction model.
Both cases, however, need a governance document or pattern library for customer intentions so that the structure can be applied across your design systems.
Putting it all together
Navigating a complex digital ecosystem gets…well, complex. To make it a more human experience, design an organic conversation by:
- redefining how you think about website navigation.
- understanding your customer intentions.
- modeling and designing an ecosystem that combines hierarchical and lateral/intentions-based navigation.
- And, putting a governance system in place to create, maintain and update your ecosystem based on the intersection of customer intentions and business values/goals.
This structure decreases the amount of navigation and content that the customer needs to consume. The result is a decreased cognitive load and an increased success rate in goal fulfillment when interacting with your business.
The net-net outcome is a delightful customer experience that sets you apart from competition. Over time this creates happy, loyal customers, while saving you money and resources in the process.