Why images don’t make good navigation links

Using images as navigation on a website is very difficult to do well. People are most likely to look at text first; images that look like advertisements or have a purely decorative aspect are often ignored. Jakob Nielsen, a leader in usability research, conducted a study in which the eye movements of users were recorded. His conclusion regarding text vs graphics:

Text Attracts Attention Before Graphics
Of users’ first three eye-fixations on a page, only 22% were on graphics; 78% were on text. In general, users were first drawn to headlines, article summaries, and captions. They often did not look at the images at all until the second or third visit to a page.

The five bottom images are not only links, they are the only direct way to get to very important information (information for, respectively: men, women, children, sexual health and mental health). Because there is no indication that these pictures lead anywhere (and the fact that they are located at the very bottom of the page), it is unlikely that anyone will click them.

This is so common that a new term was coined to describe it: “Mystery Meat Navigation“. Wikipedia defines this term as:

Mystery meat navigation (also abbreviated MMN) is a term (…) to describe user interfaces (especially in websites) in which it is inordinately difficult for users to discern the destinations of navigational hyperlinks—or, in severe cases, even to determine where the hyperlinks are.

On this particular site, navigation could be greatly improved by:

  1. Reducing the size of the huge photo on top of the page: it takes up a lot of room and is not likely to be a frequently visited section.
  2. Moving the important information to the top of the page.
  3. Combining text with images (add a description of the link under each image)

For more reading on the subject:

  • Usability drawbacks of image based navigation systems (www.nirdagan.ca)

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