The Web Team have recently launched two responsive websites: a resource for New Students packed with useful information about the induction process and a micro-site celebrating Cass’s Ten Year Anniversary.
One of the biggest challenges in developing these sites was tackling navigation. For better or worse, City’s website has a complex navigation system and shrinking this down to fit into the limited real-estate of a mobile phone screen threw up a number of IA, design and coding challenges.
Given that responsive design is a relatively new phenomenon, a number of design patterns have emerged to deal with navigation on small screen devices. After prototyping and testing a number of different options, we settled on a hybrid approach that prioritises search and gradually reveals layers of navigation when users click a “toggle” button.
Here’s an example from the Cass website:
Mobile navigable – collapsed and expanded
These screenshots illustrate how on smaller screens the global navigation is collapsed and hidden. When users click the menu icon, the navigation then slides down. This emerging “toggling navigation” pattern has sparked an interesting debate amongst the web design community about which icon best represents a hidden menu. We went with the three horizontal lines approach as this appears to be emerging as the most popular pattern and has been adopted by major sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. Also, when we tested the design with users it didn’t cause any confusion – it appears to be a design pattern that many users instinctively understand.
To aid user’s understanding of the icon we included the label “menu”. Again, there is debate over the best label: “navigation”, “navigation menu” etc. but “menu” appears to be emerging as the most widely used. In time I suspect that enough users will understand what the three horizontal lines means that the label can be dropped altogether.
The global navigation differs between the Cass and City website but we have adopted a very similar pattern to keep some consistency between the two.
Here the navigation works in exactly the same way except that the sub levels have been removed to simplify the experience, and we retain the “Cross domain” navigation above the global navigation.
These sites are still very much our first forays into responsive design and we will continue to test and refine these patterns as we “responsivise” more of City’s websites.