Web navigation: Traffic light, not neon light

Gerry McGovern says make navigation design simple. He offers some suggestions including not changing the browser default blue and purple link and followed link colors (ugh, please) and other suggestions from Jonathan and Lisa Price's book Hot Text.

    Navigation allows the reader to find the content they want by moving through a website using classification links. It should be designed in a simple, clear, consistent and functional manner; like a traffic light, not a neon light.

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Speaking as a designer....

While I am a huge fan of usability, ia and other user centered areas. I don't think that the changing of hyperlink colors is quite the crime against nature that some experts claim. Main navigation has many characteristics that set it apart besides the color of links. You have placement, usually the top or left. You have visual distinctions such as a separate color bar. Pictures and Icons also play a role. The key is less blue to me then it is consistent and intelligent application of design principles. Designers are experts at making people look at things in the order they want them. We've been doing it in print for thousands of years.

Mind you I hate mystery meat navigation and most flash navigation. My argument is just that blue isn't always the answer. As with any piece of design for the web, its who your target audience is, and what they are there for? Will they be reading over hyperlinks sprinkled throught out a paragraph? or will it be Amazon style search and destroy.

A few examples, tell me what you think about the below sites, do you find a significant difference:

Blue links always seemed like a punch in the face to me, which can be both a good thing, and a bad thing.

Visited links

The only thing I would argue about 37signals and zeldman is that there are no indicators of where you have been (visited links). It is pretty obvious which text are links (color on zeldman and on 37s underlined text are good indicators), but a subtle change in visited link color would help and not detract from the design too much.


Agreed, though one could argue on that links on sites like this aren't as numerous, making it easier to remember where you have been. 37signals does have visited links by the way. Once clicked the links meld further in with the text, though still retain their underline.