Design Cop-out #2: Breadcrumbs

Jared Spool

March 10th, 2017

In this week’s article I revisit the topic of breadcrumbs as a treatment for a symptom, instead of a way to address the root of a problem.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Most sites that provide breadcrumbs show the location variety. In this case, each page displays the optimal path the user could’ve clicked on to get it. For example, the Energy.gov page, “A Brief History of Coal Use” displays the breadcrumb trail of “Educational Activities > Energy Lessons > Coal-Introduction > Coal History” even though the user could get there without clicking on any links in that trail.

Even though path breadcrumbs are most like their fairytale ancestors, they are infrequently used on sites. It’s rarely useful to display the oft circuitous route the user takes. Attribute breadcrumbs are more common now that guided navigational techniques have come into vogue. And, designers use application breadcrumbs to denote the completed steps in a multi-step workflow, such as checkout.

Read the article: Design Cop-out #2: Breadcrumbs

What are your thoughts about breadcrumbs as a design cop out? We’d love to hear your thoughts about them below.

One Response to “Design Cop-out #2: Breadcrumbs”

  1. Robin Says:

    I vehemently disagree with breadcrumbs being a cop-out.

    In fact, I would consider them an essential navigation tool, one that is commonly missing from today’s “modern, clean” websites with nothing but a hamburger menu.

    I frequently use them when landing on a page directly from a search engines. For example, if I type in Kong Rubber Ball and land on the proper page, but then decide I want to see other rubber balls for comparison, and there is a navigation breadcrumb on the page, I might be able to click on Kong to see other Kong balls, or rubber balls to see balls by other manufacturers, or balls to see what choices there are besides rubber. Clicking on a breadcrumb link is almost always faster than initiating a new search, especially on a mobile device. Exposing a site’s hierarchy is a good thing, lessening guesswork.

    As for breadcrumbs being hard to implement, my eCommerce software does it automatically, which forces me to be thoughtful and consistent about how I categorize products in the first place, again a good thing.

    I find that many of today’s “modern, clean” websites lack any kind of meaningful navigation. No breadcrumbs, no site maps, hidden menus, search boxes that are hidden, fonts that are too light to read, and pages and navigation lacking detail about anything, making it harder and taking longer to find information. I want to find information fast and accurately, not play “discovery” with the UI.

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