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Designing navigation may be one of the most critical parts of a web layout. Yet it always surprises me how many websites seem to put little effort into their navigation. Even websites that put every element together just right except for the navigation will have a hard time creating a positive experience for the user.

Jakob Nielsen seems to have made an interesting discovery concerning web design and navigation. When designing a layout, it is critical to make sure the navigation doesn’t look like ads. While this may seem like a no-brainer to LifeClever readers, even Uncle Sam can get it wrong upon occasion.

Nielson found that the U.S. Census Bureau’s homepage had a dismal 14% success rate for it’s most important task. Why? Because the the key area looked like an ad. 86% of the users failed to find their country’s current population (even though it was the most prominent feature on the page) because it was bolder, different in text and ultimately resembled an ad.

Check out the screenshot below of the eyetracking studies done by Nielsen. You’ll notice that in the top-right corner of the layout, the user typically only read 1/3 of the population clock, which was meant to be the most prominent part of the page.

eyetracking study U.S. Census Bureau

Could this be directly related to the fact that people are wising up to CPC ads like Google Adsense, which thrive on the fact that people mistake it for navigation? I’d have to think so. This is even true for a government website, which of all the sites on the internet is least likely to have ads.

Nielsen gives a quick tip for all you designers out there: Don’t get too fancy with different colors and text. By keeping the text and color schema fairly simple, users will scan the site more thoroughly. And a user that has a positive experience navigating a website is a happy user.

Writen by Glen Stansberry of LifeDev.


  • Philip Foeckler

    gravatarSep 6, 2007
    4:55 am

    It would be interesting to see a redesign of this page ;-)

  • Dan

    gravatarFeb 15, 2008
    9:34 am

    so much for the human eye factor… always works