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A Primer on Information Architecture: Navigation

A Primer on Information Architecture Series

  1. A Primer on Information Architecture: Introduction
  2. A Primer on Information Architecture: Navigation

Navigation and IA

Navigation is without a doubt one of the most essential elements of any interface, and as a result adequate time and thought is necessary to ensure your interface’s navigation is usable and comprehensive.  From the all important global navigation that stays the same throughout the site, to local navigation which changes based on the content of the page, to contextual navigation which exists within the content itself.  They all work together to form a powerful navigation experience.

Types of Navigation

There are typically a few types of navigation: global, local, contextual/supplemental.  Sometimes you may only need one, but other times you may need all three depending on the amount of content and the complexity of the interface.  Understanding how and when to use these different types

  • Global navigation is a navigation structure that stays consistent through your application to provide familiarity and a good overview of your site’s content.
  • Local navigation is a navigation structure contingent on the current content.
  • Contextual navigation refers to navigation that is embedded within a site’s content to facilitate further browsing.  The best of example of this is Wikipedia which links content together inside the articles.


Hansel and Gretel weren’t the only two who wanted to get back to where they started.  Breadcrumbs, when well thought out and implemented in moderation, can add a dynamic and usable element into your interface.


Pagination is often an over-looked aspect of effective navigation architectures.  When combined with a thoughtful search architecture it will increase findability drastically.

Navigation Design Patterns

Design patterns are a great way to see how others are starting to standardize the way they approach certain aspects of design and their resulting interactions.  Most often, navigation mistakes are made, because the designer doesn’t take into account existing patterns that users may be familiar with.

One Comment

  1. Some very good points, pagination and breadcrumbs are huge in all of our iA publication designs that we encounter. We have a standard and we really keep it across the board. Great tips!

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