Running Navigation Exercises with Large Organizations


Simon Goodwin

Savas Labs compass

In a world where organizations constantly evolve, adapt, and innovate, it's easy to find ourselves lost in a tangled web of complexity. Intricate navigation problems can arise from a variety of factors, such as rapid growth, mergers, and acquisitions, or the incorporation of new technologies. Regardless of the source, these labyrinthine challenges can leave organizations feeling disoriented and overwhelmed.

In this blog post, we will delve into our tried-and-true process for assisting organizations in overcoming even the most complex navigation problems.

Documenting the current state

Whenever we undertake a new project, such as redesigning an underperforming or outdated website, we must instill confidence in the client by demonstrating our thorough understanding of the existing elements and ensuring that we consider every angle when proposing a forward-looking strategy.

To begin, we start by taking a complete inventory of a client’s website to ensure we account for each page during our redesign process. This practice offers clients a fresh perspective on their website, potentially revealing details they may not have noticed previously.

Running collaborative exercises

The next phase of our process involves engaging in collaborative exercises with the client to ensure an optimized navigation experience. Our team primarily relies on Figma, particularly FigJam, or simple spreadsheets to present the current state of a website's navigation and to aid in the pruning or reorganization of pages. The choice of tool depends on several factors, including the level of visualization a client requires, their familiarity with specific tools, and the way they process information. By employing these collaborative methods, we can tailor our approach to suit each client's unique needs and preferences, ultimately creating an optimized navigation experience that fosters improved user engagement and satisfaction.

FigJam navigation example

Starting the process of reorganization

Keep/kill/modify or combine

After accounting for all of the client's content, we engage our clients in an exercise known as kill/keep/modify/combine. At Savas, we do not provide content services, so this activity is typically assigned as homework for our clients. The task involves examining each URL on their domain and determining whether the page should be retained, eliminated entirely, or have its content modified or combined with another page. This exercise not only allows clients to participate actively in the process, but it also helps them identify and address any duplicative or superfluous content on their existing site.

Finding the right balance

Exploring the intricacies of in-depth navigation exercises can be challenging, as striking the right balance between catering to the client's needs and involving them in the process is crucial. Achieving this equilibrium typically involves two key factors. First is the number of stakeholders making decisions. If you have a large number of stakeholders, this process can often drag out to a lengthy discussion for every page. This isn't conducive to productivity, and we want to ensure that both parties utilize our time well. If a large group of stakeholders is needed, we recommend an overview meeting at the beginning and end to show everyone a starting and finishing point but utilizing a smaller set of stakeholders for the check-ins in between. Second is their ability to understand the process, exercises, and homework. Some clients have a hard time wrapping their heads around the work being done. This is often when we might re-evaluate the tool we’re using or personalize the method of interaction with the client. Navigation needs to include the clients, and they need to fully understand what they’re being asked to do.

Timing matters

Determining the right moment to present or pitch an idea versus setting the stage for a workshop and working collaboratively can be crucial for project success. We've discovered that diving straight into a collaborative, navigation-building exercise with clients can be difficult because oftentimes, it’s difficult for them to understand the impact of their current navigation and how changing it might produce a positive effect for customers. For most clients, we will create an updated version of their navigation independently and present it during our initial meetings. This approach not only demonstrates our intentions but also illustrates the potential improvements for users and offers a foundation for client feedback. Providing clients with a starting point is often invaluable, as they may be unsure of where to begin. Starting with a completely generative exercise would produce a meeting where all of our stakeholders look like deer in headlights.

FigJam content organization

Running exercises and live working sessions

Establishing stakeholders

The most important people to include in the working sessions are the folks who actually have the decision-making power. This will usually be one or two main stakeholders. If the website is large and has many diverse facets, it's generally good to include a subject matter expert from each area to help facilitate discussion from someone knowledgeable in that space; however, these people are not decision-makers. While their insights are valuable and merit consideration, the ultimate responsibility for making final decisions on navigation adjustments lies with the designated decision-makers.

Adjusting group size throughout the process

While stakeholders hold the decision-making power, we remain flexible and receptive to collaborating with larger groups. Our experience has shown that presenting the original navigation to a more extensive group at a project's outset can spark valuable discussions about what works and what doesn't. After this initial information gathering, the number of people included in future exercises is usually reduced to a smaller size.

Knowing when to reveal our progress

Understanding when we should share the inner workings of a project with clients versus working behind closed doors requires a delicate balance. We rely on the client's knowledge of their users and thoughts from the users themselves if we can get it, to know what needs to move where, but we are the usability experts and what makes good navigation. With that in mind, we utilize surveys, interviews, and various exercises to draw out that knowledge and create forward momentum. (For more information on our tool kit, check out our UX Workbook.) Exercises play a crucial role in building consensus on the direction of navigational changes and, depending on the client, can also foster a sense of active involvement in shaping the new navigation. Not all clients like this, but many do, which is a great way to boost confidence. We then incorporate their feedback, along with UX best practices and extensive research, to refine the navigation before presenting it for another round of feedback. Rarely will we ever have a live design session where they watch us make progress.

A better experience

Defining new navigation is often one of the most challenging yet critical aspects of a project. Reaching the final version can be a time-consuming process that goes beyond a single exercise. Working through the complexities of politics and opinions during the creation of new navigation requires backing up decisions with best practices and user data to guide clients toward the ideal user experience. Remember that, as with any UX project, the introduction of new navigation should never be considered final. There will always be an agreed-upon version for release, but it's vital to consistently evaluate analytics to identify potential issues or improvements. 

And finally, if you ever find yourself questioning the effectiveness of your website's navigation, don't hesitate to reach out to us – we are here to help you achieve the best possible user experience.