One of the most common problems I see with SharePoint is poor navigation. In my experience there are a few common reasons but it generally comes down to one thing, navigation is an after thought. This has a long term impact on the usablity of SharePoint and when done poorly is usually high up on the complaints list!
This post isn’t intented to be a best practice guide for creating a world class architecture, just some thoughts on improving common problems with navigation and how to improve your site. If you are looking for great ideas, check out the Nielson Norman Group article on Information Architecture and this Microsoft document on planning navigation for SharePoint.
How did we get here?
Often SharePoint implementations start life as a single site. Someone is instructed to create a site for a handful of documents, then someone else needs a site and before you know it SharePoint grows but no one takes a big picture view.
Resourcing can be another issue. SharePoint is implemented as a project and once the project is over, little thought is put into the ongoing management. As time passes the site gets out of date and navigation is one of the victims.
Organisation restructures can also result in the need to update navigation, names and even content. If these changes are an after-thought then confusion will creep in over time. Don’t forget to update the navigation!
Another common scenario is the IT Implementation where the system engineer is asked to implement SharePoint. It’s like Exchange but for documents isn’t it? They do a great job turning SharePoint on, but Information Architecture is something they aren’t familiar with and besides, we have have servers to patch, users to help. SharePoint is an orphan.
These aren’t the only reasons, but in the end it usually comes down to planning, design and governance.
You can normally spot common issues quickly and the good news is they can often be fixed quickly too. Common navigation issues include:
- Global navigation changing as you click menu options
- Need to scroll to the right to see the right hand menus
- have to scroll down to see all of the quick launch items (lefthand navigation)
- Inconsistent naming of menu items
- The menu is overly focused on IT
- The order of the menu items
- Clicking a link gives you a 404 or Access Denied!
Doing some basic navigation testing for simple tasks is a good way to uncover issues. How many clicks does it take to locate the leave form? Is the navigation consistent when jumping between sites? How do I find the org chart etc…Now if you were the person who designed the navigation, make sure you get someone else to test. Does the navigation work for a new employee unfimiliar with the Intranet?
What should you do?
Before you do anything, repeat after me “navigation must be planned”. Navigation is part of your overall Information Architecture, and should not be designed in isolation of the overall plan. It is essential to have input from your organisation.
Well designed navigation helps users find the thing they are looking for. If they are trying to complete a task, locate content or find a document, good navigation will make the experience better. Poorly designed navigation fails because the user cannot navigate effortlessly, lose context of where they are and can’t find there way back again later!
Implementing Hub Sites and the Mega Menu is a good way to solve the inconsistent navigation issue. Global Navigation is configured on the Hub Site and all associated sites inherit the same navigation. If you have multiple Hub Sites then you will need to design for navigating between Hubs. The Hub Site itself isn’t the silver bullet, but it is a great part of the toolkit.
Navigation can follow the organisation structure or be more tasks focused. It doesn’t need to follow the site structure, but it should give the user context.
This menu shows Projects with a mix of links to both the project sites and tasks related to projects. It is easy for anyone to find project related sites and content.
There are a few easy things you can do to make it even better:
- Have a consistent way of navigating between Hubs if you have more than one
- Be consistent with the order of items on the menu e.g. alphabetical
- Ensure users can access any global navigation item visible to them
- Use consistent and meaningful names for menu items
- Ensure users don’t have to scroll to see menu items
SharePoint also has the Quick Links webpart to supplement the global navigation. This is a good way to add links from specific landing pages so users can navigate to other related content or specific items. Don’t over do it! A page full of icons is a sensory overload.
Once you have settled on a navigation design, try to minimise change. Small adds and changes are OK, but large changes should be carefully planned. Nothing upsets users like unexpected changes to the global navigation!
Ask yourself or better still your users. If I was going to improve one area of navigation what would it be?