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The problem with sticky menus and what to do instead

Been dealing with a sticky nav at work. Tend to agree they’re a symptom of muddled information design.

University websites are nothing if not conventional, and most will add what Adam is criticising here in an effort to help prospective students navigate around long course pages.

This is an area ripe for some research (and in fact we’re doing just that at work). Perhaps unsurprisingly, course pages pose a particularly thorny set of problems:

  • Students need a lot of information when they’re evaluating a course: start dates, entry requirements, campus location, application details, how long it is, part and full time options etc., some of which can be detailed (such as course module descriptions).
  • Some of this information can benefit from interactivity, introducing another layer of UI complexity (e.g. only show me part-time options)
  • Course pages are highly visible and get lots of visits. Faculties and marketing see them as a “shop window” and therefore try and add further features, such as student work examples, staff profiles etc. They’ll also have opinions on the best way to present this information.

In my experience, students do use sticky navs, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right approach. For example, in testing I’ve seen an open by default menu used a lot only for it to be ignored once it stuck to the the top of the page. When they are used I’ve noticed that they obscure potentially important information, which the student of course doesn’t see.

(Probably warrants a blog post.)