For years, the “home” button has provided a compass rose, the north star, a navigator’s ability to regroup to the familiar comfort of the homepage no matter how deep into a website we’ve gone. As users become more fluent in navigating the intricacies of the Web however, having a prominent home button is becoming an unnecessary navigation crutch — a visual obstacle that web designers increasingly eschew.
Because primary navigation represents a series of choices that we’re asking users to make, it’s important to only offer the most important content categories as options. By culling the home button from this list, the decision-making process is simplified and we are able to provide an improved user experience.
In an increasingly tech-savvy population, the home button is irrelevant to users who easily navigate the average website without it. Reserving it a space in your sites’ primary navigation when the same functionality exists elsewhere is a waste of valuable real estate.
There’s no place like the home button
When designing a website, a primary consideration is the user experience within the site’s hierarchy. If they can’t easily navigate your website, your customers may lose their place, feel frustrated and leave entirely. If you’re selling products online, this means lowering your conversion rate and possibly revenue. Not only does it take up room that could be used for more important information, but it often adds an unwelcome amount of choice.
Customers have a varying level of experience, can be easily distracted, and may need a number of contextual cues to help them keep their place when navigating your site; no matter how small or organized. Therefore, before making changes to your site, you must thoroughly consider the demographics of your user base and their level of understanding toward the web. For example, if your users are predominantly baby boomers, they may need extra guidance where younger users will have no trouble. Despite the advantages of removing the home button, you must be confident that doing so will ease their user experience, not hinder it.
So how do you make the leap away from the comforts of a home button? How do we create enough convenience that a visitor doesn’t need to return home, while still providing the sense of security offered by the Home button? There are a few web design strategies that can be easily employed to provide accommodation to all:
It has become a standardized web design pattern to make the company’s logo clickable, since that is perhaps the most familiar alternative to a home button for users.
Because most sites feature the logo prominently in the header already (typically in the top left or center), this makes a convenient shortcut to return home. The design pattern is even more helpful when a company’s logo is always present on the page, acting as a permanent “home” button.
If your site is larger or has a complex hierarchy, you may consider a “breadcrumb trail” to provide users with an indication of where they are within the site’s organization. Breadcrumbs can be used to show your location in a multi-step form, deeply layered navigation, or even when browsing through store items organized or filtered by various categories. The breadcrumbs are links, usually at the top of the webpage, that describe your position in the site’s hierarchy in an unobtrusive fashion. They reveal exactly where you are in the site as you go from page to page, and provide a way to move the amount of steps you wish — even home, if needed.
A good example of very traditional breadcrumb navigation is the gov.uk site. Their breadcrumbs also appear at the top of the page as you navigate deeper into their site, making for an easy trip back home. This is a great consideration if your site has a dense organizational structure as theirs does.
But it’s not just complex sites that make use of breadcrumbs: luciacuba.comuses its logo and section headings as breadcrumbs to provide a path back up the document tree.
The website footer is another trusty standby; the bottom the the page is a place users of all levels of web familiarity know to go to for valuable information. A complete view of the website’s hierarchy can be placed in the footer, or simply a larger subset of the site’s navigation than is offered by the primary navigation — typically including a home button. This approach provides a fallback: even if your users are looking for something not offered in the clear and simple choices of primary navigation, there’s an offering of the website’s structure at the bottom of the page.
The mini-site for AIGA’s design conference 2015 includes a home button, not to the mini-site’s front page, but to AIGA’s main homepage. Wilson Quarterly and The Onion both use logo marks to link from their footer to their home page, but Redesignd mixes it in with other useful links.
Focus on user experience
Good user experience design focuses on creating a successful user journey in order to create engaged and returning visitors, and in the case of an eCommerce site, shoppers. Although there are are many tools to help make conversions more frequent, eliminating unnecessary navigation options such as the home button is an important way to streamline visitors’ journey through your website.
Giant organizations such as Amazon, Apple, Twitter, and Wikipedia have done away with their home button because home is not where the primary source of interaction is taking place, but merely a location for featured offers, promotions or a table of contents.
Visitors are most likely to return home when they’ve lost their way. Eliminating the home button from your navigation should be just one step along the way towards making the user journey through your site intuitive and frustration-free. Reducing decision-making and cognitive load for your users will help encourage more conversions, purchases, videos watched, articles read, or whatever tasks your site helps visitors complete.