In the October edition of the UI Design Newsletter, Kath Straub and Dr. Eric Schaffer of Human Factors International share their take on breadcrumb navigation.
Here are some highlights…
The resistance to using breadcrumbs is perplexing. They increase efficiency. They support site learning. They reduce the user’s “where-was-I?” memory burden by providing a list of recently visited pages. They make it easier to cross levels of the navigation decision tree within the browse environment.
Breadcrumbs make site learning and navigation more efficient. And it’s the designer’s job to enhance efficiency, right? So we continue to design sites with breadcrumbs.
But breadcrumbs are only beneficial if users notice them. And largely, they don’t. Or maybe they do and they are telling us something.
Hull and colleagues conclude that minimal training may be sufficient to get users to increase their use of breadcrumbs, and as such increase their task efficiency. Specifically, they argue that training makes sense in Intranet environments, where the ROI for the training would be more than offset by increased productivity.
Still, the idea that users need to be trained should be a red flag.
The article continues…
Executing the business goals through good design is an even more primary goal. Taken from that perspective, efficiency of task completion may not be the holy grail in e-tail environments. In bricks-and-mortar retail environments, being exposed to something increases your likelihood of buying it. Think candy in the supermarket checkout aisle. Further, the longer you browse, the more you are likely to buy. It is reasonable to believe that these same effects hold in on-line environments.
To that end, successful e-tailers do everything they can to facilitate browsing. Think Amazon. Amazon is one of those environments—or the original books/music store was, at least—where users often know exactly what they want, to conduct a strategic search and leave. Amazon’s designers know that. And they go to great (and successful!) lengths to offset that tendency and encourage browsing to combat it.
Still, there is an art to this kind of salesmanship. Customers need to feel they are in control of their purchasing experience
Building a site is not building user friendly ‘software’. Nor is it building a heavy handed user blind sales pitch.
A persuasive website successfully merges 2 distinct sets of goals, the visitors goals and the website’s business goals.
The article concludes the following…
I can’t see the effort in training users on breadcrumbs to gain a 1/3 increase in usage—it just makes no sense. Instead I think I will reserve breadcrumbs for hierarchically organized sites with a lot of expert users. Otherwise it does not seem like they are worth the clutter.[Read the entire article]
Yes, we agree , on most websites, breadcrumbs are a waste. Many visitors ignore them, other visitors may ‘skip’ over opportunities you have to persuade them by breadcrumbing from section to section. We usually don’t recommend them.
But there are exceptions that prove the ‘rule’. Apple’s iTunes music store uses breadcrumb navigation, and as you spend time inside the store sampling and buying songs it’s easy to understand the value of breadcrumb nav within the store.
Because the iTunes music store does such a tremendous job of keeping you clicking deeper and deeper, sampling songs and albums that you never ever intended to sample, every once in a while the user needs to get back to to a category page to get reoriented. Imagine physically being in a store where the products and the store layout make it easy to get lost in endless nooks and crannys of the store seeing and basketing all kinds of cool products each product begging and enticing you look at another. Every once in a while you might wanna run to the center aisle (breadcrumb navigation) so that you can start on brand new ‘fun’ path to start all over again. But most sites don’t have the momentum ‘problems’ that the iTunes music store has.
Oh and breadcrumbs do have other tasty uses as well