Navigating a web site shares many similarities to finding your way around a real, physical, geographical place. For one thing websites have paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. Websites may have a central “home” page and then other pages that are connected through navigational links to that home page. They also have signposts that orientate the user as to where they are and how they can get where they want to go. This being said there are a number of differences between navigating a physical space versus navigating a website. When finding your way around a physical space the landscapes enfolds around you as a series of landmarks. In contrast travel on a website is more abstract. Instead you are transported from point to point with no sense of journey between them. There is also no sense of direction when navigating a website. Often your orientation from the homepage is the only sense of direction that we see on a website. Things like search functions don’t provide easily repeatable paths that can be followed between pages. Due to these differences between navigation in the physical space and the website there are a number of ways websites can improve their user experience. Websites should provide consistent, predictable navigational links that appear the same way throughout the site. An example of this could be a breadcrumb trail showing the users where they are in relation to the overall site. Each region or district in a website should have a unique identity that distinguishes it from other regions. This allows the user to see when he moves between regions. Websites should avoid overwhelming the user with too many choices on home and menu pages. Finally websites should provide landmarks and graphics to orient the user to where they are. Users may arrive on a page deep in the hierarchy of your website and have no way to find their way to the home page without the use of landmarks.
Gestalt theory encompasses how we tend perceive unified “wholes” from complex visual parts. Research into the perception of visual elements yielded a couple of consistent principles. Elements that are in close proximity to each other are perceived to be closely related to each other. Similarly elements with the same visual characteristics are treated as a group. For the most part we prefer continuous, unbroken contours and paths and we have a bias towards seeing completed figures. Another aspect of gestalt theory are figure-ground relationships. The viewer’s perspective alternates between two possible interpretations of the same visual field but both cannot viewed at the same time. Gestalt theory relates to visual rhetoric by helping understand how we perceive visual elements and how changes to these elements can change our perspective. Lynch and Horton recommend a balance between visual sensation and graphic information. Websites should be able to adapt to different mediums such as a a mobile device or a print out. They encourage consistency but emphasize the use of contrast to draw the viewers attention. That being said they discourage the use of too much contrast in exchange for a simpler design. The site should have a good organizational structure such as the grid layout that most sites use.
Some people find reading on a computer uncomfortable because of the low resolution of the screen and the awkwardness of the scrolling page. Most people prefer to scan on screen text and print pages for further reading. The inverted pyramid is a method for presenting information where the most important information is presented first and the least important is presented last. This allows important information to be more likely to be seen and remembered, permits efficient scanning of information, allows the initial major facts to provide context for later secondary information, and places keywords at the head of a page where they carry more weight in search engine relevance. Information presented this way usually starts with a lead, followed by the body, where the the lead is elaborated on in descending order of importance. In their own website Lynch and Horton practice good web design by organizing elements into a clear hierarchy of information. They separate the information into chapters and provide understandable links between these pages. They use multiple headings and subheading to organize their content on each page. They also use the inverted pyramid style by presenting the most important information first usually in the form of a chapter overview and then elaborating on that information below.