New Year, New Nav

As product and user experience professionals, we are called to reconcile user needs with business needs. Sometimes they line up and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, the compromise made is oftentimes to the detriment of the user. A potentially loyal audience member is lost because sentiment, not science or data, is behind a decision.

Today we launched a new sitewide navigation. Although not atypical in design, it sets aside sentiment, accomplishing what can get lost in product development: it puts the user first.

I myself have wanted to improve upon our nav structure since we launched the current iteration of the site in 2017. I recognize that that may sound like sentiment but allow me to explain:

Out of the gate, our analytics quickly demonstrated that the majority of our users weren’t engaging with the nav. Ad hoc user testing also proved that much of our relevant content was buried as “I can’t find…” or “I don’t know how I would get to…” was common feedback. The new year welcomed the perfect opportunity for revamping the nav with 2021 marking our Centennial.

Through our discovery, we recognized that our previous iteration didn’t serve the user well; that is, it didn’t introduce the user to our institution well nor enable wayfinding. The breadth of our content offerings were hidden behind a hamburger and buried even further than what was displayed there. It also used terminology that we were familiar and comfortable with internally but wasn’t necessarily clear to an external audience.

While most of our traffic was (and is) coming in through the side door, as is typical of content-heavy sites, we wanted our nav to do more in encouraging users to stay, browse, get to know us, and, hopefully, find that they like us and then return for more.

The new navigation is simple and straight-forward, utilizing standard UI patterns. It lays out our various sites and our content offerings. While the goal is to encourage discoverability, only time, data — ultimately the user — will tell.

Stay tuned for what we learn.

Lisa Ortiz is the Director of Product and Design at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed here are strictly her own and do not reflect the views of the Council.

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