3 reasons we should stop using navigation bars

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January 20, 2014
3 reasons we should stop using navigation bars.

thumbnailIf you're anything like me, you spend a lot of time studying other designers' work. I like to look at projects for the experience and the interactions created for the users.

Obviously, as more techniques come about, the changes in web design take place and newer, better things arrive. We've experienced the life of the splash page, the introduction header, parallax scrolling and so many other things that have affected the web experience. However, those things were mainly aesthetic and didn't really change the way we create websites.

Lately, I've been thumbing through some websites and have seen a new change. One I think I like, but am not sure. A change that I could see really reinventing the way we even think about designing websites. It would cause us to be smarter and think more intuitively about our audience. And that couldn't be a bad thing. This technique is something that's not unique to the world of responsive and mobile design. However, for some tablets and desktops, it's a new variety of navigation.

We aren't getting rid of menus all together, we are just hiding them until they are called for. Could this be something that takes off?

How important are navigation bars?

The navigation bar was born right along with the Internet. Designers believe that placing all the menu content in clear view on a page just makes sense. And it's hard to argue. If you come to a website for the first time, you want to know what's available and where to go. It seems to have cemented itself as an important part of web design. Wireframing toolkits and programs include navigation bars, just like they include dummy text and buttons.

Navigation bars are presented in many different ways. Lately, sticky navbars have become very popular. Unlike the proposed effort, this nav bar is always present on the page. However, sticky bars are usually used in sites with heavy parallax scrolling (another huge trend). This can end up being a bit distracting, especially when it takes up a horizontal area at the top of a page.

It's hard to argue the effectiveness of navigation bars. As a matter of fact, I won't. They are effective and are the norm in web design right now. But, is there a better way to present our menus that could possibly change the entire way we think about web design? I believe so, and this way to change web design is to get rid of the navigation bar all together. But why?

3 reasons to stop using navigation bars

1. Fewer distractions

This is something I've touched on previously, but with the absence of navigation bars, there's obviously fewer distractions. Navigation bars have become a place to store all the content you can't fit on your website. On top of that, we put every single page we've imagined and come up with on the navigation bar. Some are junky and cluttered. Some have telephone numbers and search boxes. Some are just big and only have three small links on them. Some have drop-down menus that span the entire height of a website. What's the point?

In the past few years we've come to notice that web design was becoming a little too cluttered, thus the resurgence of the ever-popular minimalist design. But instead of really fixing the problem of clutter, we've just stripped our web designs of the exciting stuff. In addition, the focus on the menu and the sitemap have really cost us the most important parts of the website. Immediately when we start designing, we are taught to think of the sitemap and how everything is going to connect. Imagine if we spent that time thinking about what the audience wants and how they're going to use it.

2. Customer Focus

At one point, I posed the question of whether or not flat design has made our web sites too simple. I've also asked other community members if they think minimalism is killing our creativity. I'll spare you the lengthy read and summarize by saying this: we've traded in spectacular design for subtle web experiences. What do I mean? We'd rather have a simple blog with a white background, as long as the posts auto-scroll. We'd rather use a monotone or two-tone color scheme and make the highlight color something totally expected. Because we think that's cool.

Now, I must admit that we must be weary of over-designing. It's something I don't recommend at all. But it seems like we just stopped designing all together. And the things we find to be good design are really only things other designers can notice and enjoy. It took me about 5 years to learn the lesson that what a designer may think will look good isn't always what the customer thinks looks good.

In order to be successful with this, we have to focus on the customer/audience like never before. We have to try to figure out exactly what they want to see and how they want to see it. Navigation bars have kind of been like a guided process before, but since they're the norm we're just slapping it on a site as one-size-fits-all. The focus on the customer creates a greater connection with them and lends itself to experience driven designs like never seen before.

3. Experience driven designs

Let's build a bridge. This bridge connects what we want them to see along with how we want them to see it. The length of the bridge varies depending on how far away the two are from each other, but there must be a bridge nonetheless. We obviously want to have the smoothest bridge possible so the transfer of information can be as smooth as possible. By ridding ourselves of the navigation bar, we've created a platform to have a fully immersive brand design that should cater directly to the customer.

This allows us to now create experiences. Yes, we'll probably have to get away from the world of strict minimalism. However, this gets web design back to what it should be; a space on the web dedicated to the relationship between a brand and its customer. These experiences should make visitors more away of the brand while also creating an interesting way to do so. Rather than just clicking a link and being taken to a whole new page, now there's an opportunity to really create something. There's an opportunity to take all the cool new advances in HTML and CSS3 (aside from just scrolling) and create something magical and mindblowing.


Without that pesky bar at the top of our pages, it really frees up a whole new world of thought. I'm sure you're thinking, well if you move and it's hidden, then there's really no difference. But we are essentially taking away the very thing that moves viewers from page to page. How does one design a website like that? How does one manoeuver around a website like that? It seems impossible and as if removing a bar couldn't have such a large impact, but I beg to differ. You can check any scrolling site that makes no large use of navigation.

Is this the next thing in the world of web design? Can you imagine going to a website that has no visible menu, but knowing where you want to go? It seems like a mighty interesting challenge; one many will take. Of course, the first problem would be for sites that are heavy on pages: Does your flyout menu contain tons of links or do you just learn to condense all the content? No navigation bars could really change the way of web design, but only the future can tell if this will be a new trend.

Have you built a site without a traditional navigation bar? Do you think navigation bars are essential in website design? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, navigation image via Shutterstock.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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