UX navigation patterns are essential. There are two sides to this coin and two meanings to the definition of a navigation pattern. Don’t worry, it’s not that confusing, and one feeds into the other in a very obvious and logical sense. We’ll be focusing more on designed navigation patterns for UX designers to implement, but before we do, we’ll be talking briefly about the other definition.
While UX navigation patterns are set into the design of a user experience, there is also the habitual navigation pattern which a user will cultivate as familiarity and instinct attune to its use. These are important, because studying how users actually work and navigate within software, regardless of intended pattern, can reveal better navigation patterns to implement as said targets. So, before I point out a few patterns that work, remember that the habitual pattern of users is something to observe and from which to learn.
That said, the first navigation pattern to suggest, especially for SaaS, is a hub system. This works for SaaS as well as content presentation sites, and involves basically having a landing that is “home” for the user. It is a desktop of sorts, from which they can see their stats, see their attention-needing items, and from which they can navigate to any functionality or subsystem present. In hub architecture, there is a back button to take the user one tier up usually, but also a primary home link/button as well. The reason a single step back is available is if users wish to go to another subset within the same department or category, this will save them extra navigation that “home” would require.
Hub systems don’t always work well, though, do they? Dynamic content sites don’t work well with this, so there’s also the sequential feed model, which works for SaaS, though not as well as for websites. With this navigation patter, there is a steady page progression, usually with a forward, backward and beginning/end navigation set. In each page are so many items. Google’s search results work this way, most image galleries and blogs work this way, as well. SaaS can work this way too, in its item presentation section.
It is best to follow this pattern with large dynamic content that requires more navigation to view the item in detail. YouTube would benefit from this model, but they have chosen to use the other model, which we’ll talk about next.
Finally, there’s the infinite scrolling infinite feed. This does not work at all for most SaaS solutions unless they’re real-time data analysis or logistics-based. In this model, the scrollbar never reaches end, because as it scrolls, more items load. This works for feeds of simple data with no need for further navigation, and is used in social networks, communications and business intelligence fairly heavily. Unfortunately, it’s also used on sites like YouTube, where it doesn’t work. Avoid this model for anything where the page has to be reloaded, as places are lost and users are annoyed.
These are the big three UX navigation patterns, but there are a ton more that are more specialized.