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RE: Skip Navigation


From: Jukka Korpela
Date: Jul 23, 2002 6:00AM

John Foliot wrote:

> Doesn't it seem reasonable that upon arriving at *any*
> document the user would first want to know where they are
> (via an appropriate <title>)

Certainly, when arriving at a document with little prior knowledge about
that. But if the user has followed an informative, annotated link somewhere,
or is moving around a site, or otherwise knows what to expect, then he just
wants to get _confirmation_ at most. Anyway, a <title> element is mandatory
and should be informative, of course. It sometimes causes a minor
inconvenience when e.g. a browser speaks first the <title> element content,
then the overall <h1> heading of the page, typically with much the same
content, but that's tolerable, considering the overall importance of

> and where they can go?

That's more debatable. When you open a radio, do you want to _first_ hear a
list of what's on other channels? Is it OK for a radio to behave that way,
if there's a special operation for skipping that information? Or would it be
better to deliver the normal radio program, perhaps with an option of
getting info about other channels _on special request_?

We arrive at pages in different situations, with different expectations and
habits and prior information. So whatever we do with the navigation issue is
more or less a compromise. I'd like to emphasize the importance of being
able to _move around_ a site smoothly, following links between pages and
using an index or site map as needed. When the user notices that he's on a
wrong page with no obvious way to get out of it (e.g., by using Back button
to return), then this is anyway a disruption, something we try to avoid in
our design. That is, simple and easy browsing is broken and something
special needs to be done. So we need to maintain a set of navigational links
at the start of a page, the most prominent place, just to deal with the
disruptions a little faster?

> Any time I go somewhere new I always look for the map
> first<grin>.

That's very natural, and the main page of a site should work as a coarse
map, preferably with a link to a more detailed map. But does _every_ page
need to contain a map just because someone might arrive at it directly and
not via the main entrance? It's normal and essential that people arrive at
different pages that way; but what they need is a way to access the "map"
conveniently, not necessarily a visible or audible (though perhaps
skippable) "map" directly.

There are many people who still prefer "navigational links" on every page,
even after considering the points above. I'm not trying to convert them,
just to present a different approach, which is often applied on Web pages
and is thus a reality that users need to live with - and thus something that
authors need not be afraid of using.

> Therefore wouldn't placing the standard navigational "block"
> (div) at the bottom of the document force users of screen
> reading technology to read the entire document *before* they get to the
> navigation?

As far as I know, all relevant user agents have some relatively simple way
of getting to the end of a document. I used to have doubts about this, but
discussions with some blind users convinced me that it's OK to put
contextual information at the end. It's natural to check what's at the end
if you don't find the basic contextual information at the very beginning.

(By the way, the same applies to getting to the beginning. It therefore
puzzles me why so many pages contain "Back to top" links scattered around.
I'm pretty sure they can cause confusion - top of _what_? - and they surely
look strange on paper.)

> And for those with cognitive disabilities, wouldn't they too benefit
> with clear navigational instructions from the onset (both visually and
> structurally), consistently placed on every document within any given

They surely benefit from consistency, but you can be consistent in many
ways. If, for example, every page has a link to a site map at the end, then
things are very consistent - they will see the _same_ page whenever they
need to do navigation, not just pages with _some similarity_ (like the same
navigational area). If a person has difficulties in concentrating his mind
on the tasks he is carrying out - as many people have, and as we all have at
times - then it is much better to be able to concentrate on content only
when needed and on navigation only (instead of a navigational corner on a
page with some currently irrelevant content) when needed.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399

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