Creative and Unusual Layouts and Navigation Designs

Posted: October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized
Jan 8

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In this article, we’ll showcase website layouts and navigation structures that really
break the mold. The designers of these websites have seen dozens of clone websites out there but have sought their own way. The unusual website layouts and navigation that results can either be very successful and innovative or disorienting for visitors. You decide. When you browse the showcase, think not so much about functionality as about you design and develop the way you do.

Unusual Layouts

Breaking industry conventions is not always easy. Still, many designers push on to find fresh ideas and ways to innovate. Have you ever driven down a street where the homes perhaps have different-colored paint on the shutters but essentially look the same? The Internet can be the same, with designers cloning the same layouts day in and day out. But it is amazing what can be accomplished by a simple shift in the placement of website elements, while keeping the website familiar and easy to use.

Unusual Layout Best Practices

There are no “standards” for designing your own unusual layouts, only guidelines to keep you on track. The style is defined by freedom from conventional standards and by placing items where visitors are not trained to find them. Here are some ways to achieve an unusual layout:

Let your content articulate the design. Try even five or more columns without aligning everything perfectly. Prioritize usability, with layout as a secondary consideration. Let things flow naturally.

Let your users view content horizontally or vertically, without making additional content hard to find. Bring an element of surprise and excitement when presenting crucial content.

Keep in mind that
users tend to focus on faces. Guide them with visual imagery to help them find content. Also, make sure the layout does not disorient visitors. The experience should be new and delightful.

Unusual Navigation

Developing a unique navigation scheme that does everything but conform can be a huge task, almost the Mount Everest of Web design. Not many people take on the challenge, and not many who do succeed. In this section, we cover both the victories and defeats. Unusual navigation requires a balance between innovation and practicality. If you lean too far towards innovation, the navigation can become frustrating and even unusable. The goal is to make the navigation intuitive enough for the website to be perfectly usable.

Unusual Navigation Best Practices

Unusual navigation has no set rules. Just think differently and try something that does not look, feel or function like your everyday website. And follow these guidelines:

Let your navigation float freely within the content, rather than using the typical “Z pattern” that helps users scan. Make sure the navigation is still clear and self-explanatory, even if it doesn’t sit in the usual location at the top. Make it intuitive yet simple, maybe with just a few symbols that expand into many options.

Use imagery instead of, or in addition to, text. Allow users to use the mouse buttons and click wheel as alternatives (with instructions, of course). Also allow
keyboard navigation as an alternative (instructions again, please).

Finally, include arrows that visitors can use to cycle through the main sections without using the main navigation. Allow users to drag items to reveal new content, while maintaining usability and accessibility.

When Unusual Becomes Unusable

Not all unusual designs are as intuitive as their designers would like to believe. SOme can be more of a nuisance than a convenience. MIT offer some
usability guidelines for websites, which are not detailed but still useful as a quick checklist. If your website’s purpose and content are not immediately understood, you may want to rethink your design. Your content’s structure does not have to be conventional, but it should be logical. Few things are more frustrating to a user than not knowing how to navigate content.

Think of your website like a brand new vehicle. It has some things you are used to: a steering wheel, gears, a seat, etc. When you first sit in it, you immediately recognize certain items, but not others. If the gear shift has been moved from between the seats to behind the steering wheel, you might be confused at first. Not knowing how to shift detracts from the vehicle’s functionality. So, the vehicle’s controls should be clearly labeled and feel natural to use. The relocation of the gear shift is one of the more drastic advancements in the usability of automobiles in recent years and feels quite different from the “layout” of typical car.

While creativity, uniqueness and pushing boundaries always benefit the Web community as a whole, usability is far more important. Your layout and navigation must be intuitive and easy to use to be successful.

Robert Hartland is a professional designer and photographer with over seven years of experience. He owns his own clothing company
Envee Apparel, a creative theme-based lifestyle t-shirt company and accepts freelance work through his portfolio web site
Aether Design.


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