Guest post by Eric Olsen
Web Content Manger, Lewis University
Less is more. Great designers understand this. And yet, it can be hard for even the greatest of Web
designers to stay strong under the often intense pressure that comes from the various political arms of
When people from departments you didn’t even know existed call you up and say, “Our program/
page/event needs to be on the home page”, do you tell them, “No, it doesn’t, because your content is
irrelevant to both prospects and current students alike?”
No, you can’t say that. So you find yourself cramming in new menu items. Wrongly prioritizing news
events. Because you think you have to. And maybe you do… but there are also some ways to play the
political game without ruining your user experience.
Now, every university is different. Broken up differently. So, there isn’t a single navigation solution that
can work for everybody. The goal of today isn’t to tell you “the” navigational format to use. It’s simply
to give you an ABC guide of some different solutions you might be able to incorporate within your own
crazy, dysfunctional system.
Applachian State University
What’s the solution to the non-stop expansion of your existing menus? Appalachian State University has
found a great one, using Quick Link icons within their header.
These header icons instantly become the first navigational source you see when you land on the home
page. And ideally, these should be the top 5 destinations your visitors are interested in, or where you
want them to go next.
If you’ll notice, these icons didn’t replace their left-navigation Quick Link list – which can expand if
absolutely necessary without ruining your top 5. It’s the Pareto principle. Focus your main navigation on
pleasing the top 80% of your visitors. And only ruin the experience for the other 20% if you’re forced to.
Some people hate the mega menu. In fact, you may be wondering how I can recommend one after I
just got done talking about design simplicity. And that’s a common and fair criticism with mega menus.
But Bates College does something really interesting with theirs. Their mega menu isn’t a drop-down.
It’s fully visible on the home page. Why does this work here? Because it’s not competing with 7 other
menus. Every student next-step takes place in this one navigational world. And while this solution runs
the problem of not prioritizing top user tasks, it also makes it very hard for a visitor not to quickly find
what they’re looking for.
What’s the #1 question a prospective student asks when they come to your University website*?
“Do you offer the program I’m looking for?”
Capella University’s home-page navigation takes that primary task-based desire very seriously. That’s
why their “program-finder” navigation sits within a standard left-bar navigation, but is chronologically
first and color highlighted to make it stand out as the priority choice. To subtly recommend/remind you
what you’re here to accomplish.
*Note: The #2 and #3 questions respectively are “Can I afford this school?” and “Will I fit in at this
school?” based on data from E-Expectations.
You don’t have to start over to make your home page more navigable. Besides, we’ve already discussed
how you probably can’t win that political argument anyway. But navigational tweaks can be easy to
make, easy to get passed, and make a huge difference.
Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manger for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic university near
Follow Eric on Twitter @eolsencreative