Lately I have found myself doing a lot of search-based navigation designs. Why is that? I think the number one reason is that it’s the most flexible of the navigation patterns, falling somewhere between pure search and menus. Faceted navigation is the filtering navigation you often see down the lefthand side of retail sites such as Amazon.com or Zappos.com.
It is a way of exposing some of your most frequently-used search terms as UI elements and it allows users to quickly filter down to the content they need. Additionally, it avoids forcing your users into predefined navigation and can replace large inflexible tables. But faceted navigation isn’t just for shopping. It can help with any site or interface that has large amounts of data or content. Faceted navigation can be useful when there are many categories for lists, many types of users with different needs or many steps in a process.
Here are some signs to that your Interface may benefit from faceted navigation
1. Do you find it hard to classify your content?
If this is the case, then, then your users likely do as well. Allowing users to navigate by flexible terms rather than static navigation lets them find their content rather than guess what navigation category it falls into.
2. Does your content change categories based on circumstances?
This can be seen in process-based interfaces and flexible-role based interfaces. In process-based interfaces the content that is most important to your user depends on where they are in the process. In flexible-role based interfaces, the target content is defined by the current role of the user. In either case, faceted navigation can assist by filtering content down to the items that are specific to that process stage or role.
3. Do you have a large table that requires complex sorting to be useful?
Tables are powerful tools, but they aren’t always flexible enough to meet the needs of modern devices and users. Even though tables have complex sorting mechanisms, they tend to still feel like a giant brick wall of data. Your information may be at the top, but you are still faced with several rows of information that you don’t need. Faceted navigation frees your information from the table structure and allows it to dynamically create content-focused pages.
Here are some ideas for More User-Friendly Faceted Navigation
A wall of check boxes can be as mind-numbing as a wall of data. Using graphics for your facet selections not only saves space and creates uniformity, it also can be a great way to define the term. For instance, a user may recognize the silhouette of an instrument or tool faster than they would recognize a model number or technical term. Additionally, sliders, dials, calendars, and switches are other UI elements to consider.
Reformat your data based on searches
Using faceted navigation allows you the freedom to get creative. It is more work, but why not return the dynamic content formatted in a way that gives emphasis to key search terms? For example, if you are searching a set of test results for the results that fall within a specific range, why not return that information with the results in a larger and bolder font?
Consider allowing users to save their searches
If users have their own accounts, consider allowing them to save their most common queries. In essence, this allows them to define their own navigation.
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