There’s no place like Home. Or is there?
Part of serving a wide range of clients means studying their websites all the time, and looking at usage patterns. It allows us to determine who is currently using our clients’ sites and – how their habits and preferences are shifting. Which brings us to the Home button.
The logo as a Home button.
The practice in recent years has been to eliminate the traditional Home button. By using the logo instead, sites have had a convenient (and content-efficient) way of letting users get back to comfortable, navigable ground. Furthermore, using the logo frees up room in the navigation bar for other navigation elements. The chart below illustrates the percentage of websites using a Home button versus their logo. It proves what we already suspect: the Home button may be on its way out.
Not so fast.
Many of our clients’ websites are trafficked by users who are web savvy – but not all of them. Sites that serve users who are elderly, mentally ill, visually impaired, socioeconomically troubled, or not conversant with traditional site functionality may struggle with the shifting variables in web design.
Giving these people a traditional path back to their starting point can be comforting and can keep them on the site. In Steve Krug’s excellent book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability he writes: “Having a home button in sight at all times offers reassurance that no matter how lost I may get, I can always start over, like pressing a reset button or using a ‘Get out of jail free’ card.”
The breadcrumb alternative
To keep users oriented within a site, breadcrumbs can be helpful. When a user lands on an internal page of your website from another source, breadcrumbs will allow the person to see exactly where they stand within the site’s structure – without taking up much space. Breadcrumbs are also easy to implement into the visual design of a site, and the links contained in a breadcrumb trail give the user additional information.
For some sites, such as social networks, the homepage is a key feature, with a personalized news feed or a central hub for user activity with key functions. In these cases, clear pathways to get Home are valuable. Look at Facebook. It has made changes to the tool tip when you hover over the logo, reflecting a change in user understanding of how to get back home.
But on sites where the homepage is not the central hub of user interest and activity (such as eBay), the standard practice is to make the route home less prominent. One notable exception to this rule is Pinterest, where the homepage is hugely important to the user but has no dedicated home button – only a clickable logo in the top center, and search in the top left.
3 things to remember
1. Look at the audiences. Are the primary users likely to need directions Home?
2. Evaluate the site’s complexity. Are there complex subpages that might make navigating difficult, and a Home button appealing?
3. Don’t go with the crowd. Trends can be interesting and useful. But they shouldn’t be a substitute for independent thought. Yes, there is movement away from having a Home button, but your site should respond to its users, not what the herd does.
As always, we’re ready to continue the conversation over a beverage.