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For some years now there has been a trend in website and mobile app design toward fixed menus and navigation bars to enable users to recirculate and move smoothly around the website. These are known as sticky bars and menus. This practice has advantages and drawbacks, as do horizontal navigation or swipe, or navigation with infinite vertical scrolling. Here is a list of the pros and cons of this visual design technique.
Naturally, the choice of certain design resources over others depends fundamentally on two factors: subjective professional criterion based on the designer’s or art director’s years of experience; and a second no less important element –the capacity to collect and interpret the metrics obtained from the analytical tools. In either case, it is very important to have a clear idea of the conversion targets and try as far as possible to get users to the expected and desired scenarios so they can achieve their business goals or any other type of goals that were set at the start of the project.
1. They make it easier for users to browse the file and increase retention: sticky bars and menus allow designers and developers to make sure the navigation access is always visible to the user. In some ways, it’s a passive call to action –always visible, always available. Users get tired of scrolling vertically and feel the need to change. They tend always to recur to the most recognizable icons or buttons and the ones with the best access for moving around a website or a mobile app. Enhancing that natural flow is an efficient mechanism for streamlining navigation and retaining the user within a digital project for longer.
Users always like designs that save them complication and time. Consistently maintaining a browser bar or menu anchored while users are scrolling avoids them having to scroll up to get to the bar when they want to browse other environments, sections, news and so on.
2. Maintaining the logo visible increases the brand value: static bars or menus that remain fixed while users are scrolling have an evident advantage in maintaining a constant corporate presence before the user’s eyes. Today there are an enormous number of applications, many with identical or similar features, so it’s vital to make a good impact on the users and retain their interest, all linked to a corporate image supplied by the logo, the name and the graphic line.
3. They are useful in the case of dynamic elements: sometimes designers introduce dynamic elements that depend on the users’ browsing –there are elements that change when readers scroll vertically or browse internal screens. Sticky bars and menus can be very useful for ensuring users don’t get lost and know where they are at all times.
Menus and bars that stay fixed on the screen as users scroll vertically also have some drawbacks. In the end, it’s all a question of priorities, and of achieving designs and developments that meet the desired goals.
1. Too large a presence on small screens: when designers create solutions using sticky menus or bars, they should bear in mind the enormous fragmentation of devices, particularly those under the Android umbrella. Thousands of terminals use the Google operating system, and some of them have very small screens. Apple devices also have different screen sizes: the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5S and 5C have smaller measurements. If a sticky menu is used, there is very little space remaining on the screen. In the case of Android, with a greater number of lower or mid range brands and terminals for users with fewer resources, the problem of lack of space when using this visual resource is substantially increased.
2. A distracting element for users: this design resource is sometimes used without any clear purpose for the ultimate usability of the app. It doesn’t make much sense to endow a specific element with a high degree of visibility if it’s not really necessary, among other reasons because it doesn’t perform any specific mission and introduces an unnecessary distraction. One frequent argument against the use of sticky menus and bars is that when users visit a website or a native application, they’re looking for information or content that responds to a need, and not for a gimmick that’s useless for their browsing. This type of fixed elements may sometimes be too intrusive.
Designers are coming up with more effective options for highlighting certain elements without the need to fix them in the browser –for example, by changing colors or fonts. And just as it may distract users from the content, it can also distract their attention from the advertising, a key element in funding some online projects.
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