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The Politics of Navigation

About the Talk

April 24, 2015 2:45 PM

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, MN

For years, REI.com’s global navigation existed in a relatively stable equilibrium. It balanced the need to sell products and services, provide access to educational content, and inform visitors about unique aspects of the company. But a recent agency-led redesign threatened to disrupt this stability. Suddenly, a whole host of assumptions around the proper role of site-wide navigation were exposed. As REI’s in-house IA, I had a front row seat to watch merchants, marketers, designers, and business managers wrangle over their competing expectations of REI’s global nav. My job was to influence opinion and try to restore a healthy balance in the navigation while still supporting a new design direction for the site.

This talk will be a case study of the unexpected political struggles that were revealed during the design process. I’ll attempt to fairly portray the full range of perspectives on global navigation, from customers to business owners, from agency designers to in-house designers, from accepted practice to emerging trends. I’ll talk as candidly as I can about the discussions that took place throughout the redesign process, and where we landed on some fundamental questions about navigation: Who should we design for? Who should care about the global nav? And, particularly, what is IA’s role in the creative process? In short, when politics enter the design studio, who wins?

Session Takeaways

  • IA choices are political. IA choices have consequences.
  • All companies struggle with the right way to organize and present information. The answers aren’t easy or clear, nor is it clear who should make the final call.
  • I’ll share what we know about why our customers visit our site and what they’re primarily there to do, and what we think that implies for navigation design.

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