We’re studying users. We’re documenting objectives and constraints. And then we try to come up with a navigation. What I’ve been missing all along is the notion of dimensions. I used it in a couple of posts (about Stèles and this site), but it was sort of a randomly matching name for a very vague idea. It just grew a bit more firm (hmmm), after fermenting with an aspect of Carsten Schwesig’s bendable interface, Gummi, where he mentions the capability of his system to handle various directions of the interaction (up, transition up, neutral, transition down, down, with the bendable interface, plus a 2D mapping of the screen’s surface, cf. page 4).
The interesting factor here is that on the web we’re working with a very abstract metaphor, primarily using the “page” object, with markings on it that aren’t related to its (virtual) materiality. However, information architects do talk about location within a site. Links “take” the visitors “to” pages, or even to “places”.
So where are we taking the user? There is of course a sense of space and of direction in the way we talk about navigation, but I feel that in order to deal with that sense of space, we ought to further study the dimensions of the information we’re providing an interface to. The dimensions of the information are precisely what creates the navigation space and therefore that ought to define how the space-related aspects of that navigation are presented, behave and react to the user.
I will try, in the next few weeks, to explore what this means for a few sites I’m working on, and I’ll see if that delivers results in terms of providing specific guidelines that increase the “obviousness” or helpfulness of the navigation devices I can think up. I’ll try to see to what extent it matches the products of our other means to come up with navigation devices.