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The Death of Browsing

The turn of the year is often accompanied with reflections on the past and predictions of the future, I've dusted off the crystal ball and gaze into a utopian future of data-led content

Kris Jeary

Author:
Published: 21st February 2015

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Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

- Niels Bohr

Whilst this is entirely correct we can look at data and extend the trends into the future, what this offers is a chance to think, to plan and to construct the shape of things to come. So I want to talk about the death of traditional navigation.

An example of traditional navigation
Just one example of traditional navigation, arranged top-right.

A brief history of navigation

Navigation has been pretty unmovable since the birth of modern web design. Mostly top right and horizontally laid out. Why? Mostly to ape traditional applications, the MS Office apps of the day, it helped breed familiarity. As the technology developed so did the navigation, now we had the most hideous phase of all; the drop-down menu.

An example of drop-down menus
Agghh, drop-down navigation.

Thankfully touch devices came along (which made drop-down menus particularly hard to use), the principles of responsive design were then laid out and the drop-down menu begins to fade back.

Currently we have the equally controversial hamburger menu, love it or loathe it it can be considered the first significant step on the path to removing all navigation as it forces the navigation options off of the screen, giving greater emphasis to the call to action links on the page.

The hamburger menu icon
The hamburger menu icon
The hidden navigation menu
A hidden navigation, revealed after clicking on the icon

What unites all these approaches is the principle of setting out all the pages and asking the visitor to find what they want themselves, the journey hasn't been constructed and we are relying too heavily on hope to deliver visitors to where we want them.

O brave new world

Thankfully there has been a lot of recent focus on the 'User Journey'. This is the planned path users will take through a website in order to lead them to an action the website owner wishes for them to take.

I have great hope in the principles of the User Journey and taking it to its logical next step. Greater sophistication means we can start doing this smarter and using AI to lead the process. If we are tracking paths through the website via the entry page, or even referring URL, then logically we should be tailoring the content and next actions on each page to best maximise the potential of each visitor.

A good salesman leads the conversation, they listen and then direct down paths that help to make the sale, a well planned website AI can do the same, if not better.

With these principles firmly established why would we need a traditional navigation? Each page can give a limited number of choices depending on where you have been before, as well as other metrics such as number of previous visits or amount of time on a preceding page.

Summary

Change can always be a nervous time, the changes I'm talking about will revolutionise web design, and it will also mean the platform has truly matured, no longer taking the lead from traditional forms (brochures, magazines, software) but carving out solutions which are made to measure.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus


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