Edinburgh GEL

Navigation and IA

The Information Architecture (IA) and navigation of University websites using EdGEL has been informed by consultation and research, and are specified with the aim of achieving consistency of user experience across the web presence.

Navigational design has evolved over an period of time (beginning before the development or EdWeb and EdGEL) and informed by:

  • Analysis of site structures across the University web presence
  • Consultation with business and web publishing representatives
  • Usability studies with staff and students using desktop and mobile devices.

This will continue to evolve in line with the requirements of content structures and our continuing research into how key target audiences interact with the website, particularly on small screen devices.

Consistency of user experience

Our aim is to ensure that a user always knows:

  • Where they are
  • Where they've been
  • Where they can go next

Adopting the design elements of EdGEL that make up the 'frame' of the page, but then changing the naure of the interaction is possibly the most disruptive and damaging thing a designer can do to the overall website user experience.

If it looks the same it should behave the same. Introducing new conventions for established elements causes confusion.

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

Jakob Nielsen's Law of the Internet User Experience

This rule is equally true in the context of the user experience on the University of Edinburgh website. Our analytics studies looking at prospective students of specific disciplines showed that even they spent more time elsewhere on the University site than on the subsite directly relevant to their area of study interest.

Page elements

The global header

The global header persists across all pages on all websites. Its behaviour and presentation is always the same:

  • University crest and title: Always in the top left, never supplemented by another brand element, always linking to the University homepage.
  • Schools & departments link: Always present towards top right linking to the list of schools and departments. This is essentially the University's site map.
  • Website search: Always present towards top right, generating results for the whole of the University web presence, along with other subsets of data.

The local header

The local header is presented below the global header, and is unique to a particular subsite. Its behaviour and presentation is persistent across that subsite:

  • Subsite banner image: Always present across all pages in the subsite and linking back to the subsite homepage, the image must be unique to that subsite. Replicating the same image across multiple subsites has been shown to cause orientation issues for website visitors, even when the accompanying banner text changes.
  • Subsite banner text: Always present to accompany the subsite banner image, the title of the subsite must also provide a link back to the subsite homepage. An additional sub-line above this text optionally provides the context of a parent (or other ancestor) website, and a link to this website.

Subsite navigation

The 'focused' approach to our website's navigation was chosen because:

  • It performed as well or better than a traditional expanding/contracting navigation in all usability testing wtih staff and students
    • In particular, on smaller screen devices it performed significantly better
  • It means that deep websites are easier to construct; an important consideration in some areas of the University
  • It is difficult to make mistakes in the process of organising a website structure, which is an important consideration in a web publishing community such as ours, where a significant proportion are non-specialists.

Detailed examples of navigational behaviour are presented in the website IA guidelines.

University website IA guidelines on the website support wiki

In addition to the navigation menu, the main body of the page contains:

  • Breadcrumb trail: This should begin with 'University homepage', before representing the structure of the website relative to the current location.
  • Contact button: The title of the contact button should reference the nature of the contact details available via the link. This may be a single page presented for the whole subsite, or alternatively the destination of the button may be reset to present contact details relevant to a particular subsecton of the site.

Subsite footer

The footer is presented consistently across a subsite, and therefore should contain content and links that are relevant on any page.

Unlike the subsite banner, the content of the subsite footer doesn't need to be unique, and may be repeated across a number of subsites all associated with the same organisational unit (for example, a school and its research groups or subject areas).

Global footer

The global footer persists across all pages on all websites. Its behaviour and presentation is always the same, although where a website does not comply with the privacy and cookies policies, it should provide a locally managed statement instead. 

Further reading and guidance

For more detail on the points summarised here and more, refer to the University website IA guidelines.

University website IA guidelines on the website support wiki