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Presidential Online Scorecard: Navigation

Posted by Lacey Kruger at Sep 23, 2008 10:22 AM CDT
Categories: Usability

The current tally of our Presidential Hopefuls Online Scorecard is neck and neck – Obama 1 / McCain 1.

Thanks to Brandy Reppy’s analysis of the accessibility of both sites where Obama scored his win along with Misty McLaughlin’s thorough look at the use of engagement pathways on their sites, where McCain scored to tie the game.

Today’s post looks at an area very near and dear to my heart – Navigation. Ah, of course, that clunky bar full of links that you are forced to fit into your site design but it’s oh so important! Not only should it give your users a sense of where they are when they’ve been browsing on your site for countless minutes, but it should also tell them where they should go when they first arrive. There are plenty of rules when it comes to navigation but really, it’s all about balance – balance in the number of options you offer and in how far down into your site you provide navigation (do you really need navigation for your fifth level pages?).

So, let’s start by taking a look at our two favorite candidate’s main navigation. Both sites have used a lot of the same principles with their navigation – not all of them great ones – but we’ll start there. First, they have around the same number of navigation options - 6 main options (excluding Home) and 2-3 options that are separated from the rest. Those numbers are reasonable enough for a user to absorb their choices, though we’ll look a little closer at which options they’ve separated a bit later. Additionally, both sites use drop-down navigation, which is not a favorite among information architecture professionals. Now, granted, these are campaign sites and they have a TON of information to convey but the drawback to drop-down menus is that they provide a kind of information overload from the get-go so that it’s really difficult for users to make a decision about where to go. So, that’s a strike for both sites and it really counteracts the fact that they did alright with their number of navigation options. Let’s take a look at how they differ…

 Mccain navigation

With regards to the separated items on the navigation, the John McCain site highlights action-oriented items, which is a great strategy so you can make them more prominent, but doesn’t it seem like “Events” would belong here too? The events section includes an events calendar and a cool grassroots tool for setting up watch parties and other events that would definitely be considered action-oriented. I’m not sure how they missed that opportunity?

One thumbs-down on the McCain site is that their drop-down menu lists extend below the screen. This may not be that big of a problem if the drop-down navigation were not the only way for me to navigate the site, but it is! So, to find the “Women for McCain” coalition (ahem) I have to do a lot of maneuvering.

The “Contribute” button on the McCain site is probably not as prominent as it could be either. Also, and this goes a bit out of the realm of a navigation discussion, the donation form opens in a new window and looks different from the rest of the site. This interaction is a bit disturbing and could dissuade some users from contributing.

 Obama navigation

So, looking at the Barack Obama site, his separated navigation items seem to belong together but are given less priority than the action-oriented items on the McCain site. The blog and the store are more like additional features on the site that users can access quickly from the navigation.

Now, you can’t see it here, but the Donate Now button is off to the right of the navigation bar and is large and red – this a major plus. Users can quickly identify the action and the donation form opens within the same window and looks just like the rest of the site.

Obama Make a DifferenceOne final thing the Obama site does well is that they have an action-oriented box on the right column of the site. This component could possibly be placed a bit higher up on the page, but nonetheless, it is an area users can identify with when they visit and be encouraged to get involved on the site.

So, I think you probably know the end-result of my analysis by now (if you’ve made it this far). That’s right – new score – Obama 2 / McCain 1.

Thanks for tuning in – let me know in the comments if these insights have made you wonder about your own navigation or if you want to see any other topics analyzed in light of the presidential hopefuls.

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