The “Home” Link: How do I wanna use it?

Microsoft's navigation, with the logo as the way home.

Microsoft’s navigation, with the logo as the way home.

I recommend checking out the 10 Usability Lessons from Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, courtesy of Redd Horrocks.

Ever have a small feeling that your website could be actually driving your audience away?  Maybe have that feeling of “did I screw up my audience” or “is my site broken”?

No, it’s most likely not broken, and you probably targeted your audience pretty well….except you might have left out one piece to include in your analysis.

The Home Button.

How is your audience getting back home?

Alright, so a huge trend that’s been going on for the past few years is the lack of a “Home” tab in the main navigation.  It’s somehow become a “modern” design aspect in many sites today.  The common thought of the “Home” tab is that ‘most people know to click on a header image or left logo‘.

TheVerge relies on the main logo to return home, a very common convention.

TheVerge relies on the main logo to return home, a very common convention.

Now, did you make a similar assumption?  Ah, that’s alright.  Many people do.

Ok, I can see that.  It’s a common act many modern websites to do just that: logo link home or header image link home.  It’s been going on for years now.  I wish to pose a question though:

Isn’t that just assuming your users know to use that, or is that information fully supported with data?

Sure it’s a common thing to do that in websites, but have you taken into account what not having a “Home” tab could do to your users?

According to Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (get it, study it, love it!  Great usability book!), A “Home” tab is used by users as more of an “escape plan”  in case they become disoriented in a website and need to catch their bearings.  You want to make it as easy as possible for your users to get back home.  Don’t force them to think! (Krug).

So when to use this?

Well, normally I’d say always, but I know that’s not quite the case now, is it?

So, you want to keep this in mind when you’re Identifying your audience and during your testing procedures (after sketches, after wireframe, after prototype, whenever you’re testing).

Identifying your audience:  Who your target demographic is can really change whether or not you need a “Home” button.  Let’s say for example your audience is older folk who know the internet but aren’t really too online savvy.  This is a case where you may consider using the “Home” tab.  Your audience sounds like one that can get lost rather easily if your information architecture isn’t flushed out correctly.  Make it extremely simple for them to “get back to start” rather than rely on the back button.

During your Testing Procedures:  Sometimes what you thought initially may not end up being the case for your website.  For example, you’re testing your wireframe with InVision, and you ask your test subject to “Go back to the Homepage”.  You think that he or she is going to click either the header image you used or the top-left logo image.  Your heart drops when you watch them delay, then press the Back button!  No! Something’s not working right!

On the flipside, let’s say you did include both a “Home” button and a logo image link.  You ask the same task to be completed, and you notice most of your users hitting the logo image rather than the home button.  Well, the “Home” button didn’t work here.

If either of these cases happen then this is the time for them to.  Make notes of how your users are performing with similar cases like these and evaluate them!  See where you can improve, and whether or not a “Home” button is needed!  If you have the time, test both and see which yields the better result.

Alright, I hope this helps in your endeavor of using the “Home” button or not!

“The problem is there are no simple “right” answers for most Web design questions (at least not for the important ones). What works is good, integrated design that fills a need—carefully thought out, well executed, and tested.”

                        -Steve Krug: Don’t Make Me Think:  A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
——-User First, Designer Second——-