The home button is very important for the navigation of any large website (discounting blogs here).
It’s used by people for lots of reasons, but more often that not, after they have got lost. When they need to restart or reset their perception or browsing of the sites’ navigation.
At this point people are often at their most confused. So you want to make finding the way home easy.
Now there has been a trend of late to move the home button from the top left of the page to all over the place, I have even seen it, as the first instance, in the footer of a page. For a small sites displacing maybe okay, but for a large site with a complex navigation systems this tends to be an issue.
I have often suspected that people had difficulty finding a way to get home with a lot of websites. I had seen anecdotical evidence over the years, but nothing solid.
So over the last few years I have been testing this issue every time I conduct a series of UX evaluations (user tests) on a website, just adding a series of small observations on how people interact with the home button on a site they are not familar with.
It came down to three types of scenarios:
- Home button not clearly defined, but not easy to locate (displaced).
- Home button defined, but not easy to locate (displaced).
- Home button defined, in its usual place.
When the home button is not that clearly defined the results are surprising. Depending on the audience segments the methods used to get home are mainly via the back button and the logo (note technical audience).
For instances where it was highlighted, but displaced from an expected location, people tended to again use the back button and the logo, with small percentage finding the home button.
When the home button is in it’s expected place (top left on the primary menu) – there was an almost 100% usage of the home button.
The really interesting aspect of this was watching people track their cursor to where they expected the home button to be and the confusion that resulted when it wasn’t in the expected location – top left on the menu.
Yes highlighting and making the home button standout did help when it was in a new location, but not much. People tended to almost instinctively move towards the top left.
Why Go Home
Why is this occurring. Shouldn’t people be adaptable and “see” a home button even if it’s just been relocated. Well in this case we are dealing with a very deeply entrenched learned behaviour.
The basic web page structure of a few commonly located items – such as the home page, contact, menus, gives people a framework to hang the rest of the every changing element onto. This framework acts as a grounding for the rest of the design.
The simple rule is when designing web sites take into account this type of learned behaviour. Don’t mess with the location of the home page on complex web sites.