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Find Your Navigation

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I just wanted to share an experiment I did to help decide the structure of a site. I do not know where the idea originated from, maybe it was in my head from a few things I have done in the past or maybe someone wrote about this earlier. I am sure someone will enlighten me.

I am currently building a website for a print publication that has never really had a website before. I often find myself trying to explain the differences between print and web to the team. Sometimes this communication can be a real challenge for the both of us. Lately, one of the things we've both been stuck on is the navigation and sitemap.

We went back and forth on a few suggested structures, but communication was still lost. I was thinking to myself, there has to be a better solution than plain text on paper. I made a mockup in Balsamiq with icons and arrows, but this didn't work too well either as it was almost the same thing as plain text on paper. Then it hit me... what if I made it more visual and interactive?

I took a few 3x5 blank index cards and wrote the title of the page names, categories and subcategories (basically all main structures) on each card. I then shuffled them so there was no order. I figured that if there was no order then it might be easier to create it along the way. From there we sorted out the cards in the order that made the most sense. So we had the main navigation cards at the top and the sub navigation underneath in the appropriate categories. We also had a stack that was not included in the main navigation such as Private Policy.

Once we got everything laid out we re-evaluated the pile. We took a look at each title and determined it if was correctly worded and if it made sense. Once we were happy with those elements we moved to the subcategories. We discussed if each subcategory made sense with its main category and if not we made changes. We went back and forth like this for a while with positive and a clear open communication until this was solved and made sense for everyone on team.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say this was a great exercise to help determine the structure of the site. We ended up removing 16 unnecessary categories for the main navigation and added three new ones.