You Can Always Go Home Again
Your website does not need a “home” button anymore, and having one is probably working against your brand.
Whether or not to have a dedicated “home” button on your website’s main navigation is a hotly debated topic among web designers. The anti-home button designers will tell you that it is no longer needed, that any good website will have a clickable logo in or around the main navigation that will take you home. The pro-home button designers will tell you that the home button is a tried-and-true standard of web design, that people expect it to be there, that people look for it there, and why would you take something like that away?
As with most other web design topics we argue, it is easy to frame this one as a classic form vs. function debate. Concerning form and aesthetics: if the home button is no longer needed, if people are contented clicking on logos, than having a home button is no longer necessary, therefore having a home button can only be bad design. Concerning function and use: websites should be easy to use and obvious, and keeping a dedicated home button can’t hurt, while not having a dedicated home button might be confusing to some users.
Solid arguments are made on both sides, making use of science and testing and heatmaps and surveys and sometimes a lot of passion.
As for myself, I am a staunch anti-home button designer. I never prepare a mock-up with a home button. The only websites I ever launch that have a home button are projects where the client demanded it. Clients have to demand it, too. If they bring it up, I advise against it. If they continue to request it, I object to it with passionate pleas. However, at the end of the day, it is their website, and if they demand it, I will strenuously object … and then I petulantly add it.
I know that all projects are different, and websites designed for a specific market or audience might call for design elements that you wouldn’t use on any other project. I get that. I believe that. I do.
But the home button is, in my opinion, always a bad idea.
I don’t have any science to back up my views, nor do I put much stock in the A/B tests and heatmaps and surveys that proponents of both sides will offer.
My opinion is based solely on the calendar: it is 2017.
The way we use technology in 2017 is very different than how we used technology in 2012 and jaw-droppingly different than how we used technology in 2007.
Changes in how we use technology are not limited to websites; these changes impact how we approach and use all technology.
Way Back in 2007
Ten years ago, not only were there no widely used touchscreen devices or smartphones, but the way most of us used technology was still very Windows-centric: software was purchased on discs and installed locally, documents and other files were stored locally on your hard drive, and we based the overall organization on hierarchical, nested trees of folder icons.Logically, things made more sense; you (hypothetically) know where everything on your computer was, you knew where the programs installed, you knew where to drill down into your documents folder to find what you needed.
Websites were reflective of this use. Navigation menus were long, and drop down menus were the rage. We made pages that were sub-pages of sub-pages, and we made sure a direct link to all of them were available on the main navigation. We created “sitemaps” that were not for SEO, but were designed to be a map of all the pages on your site, available for a user to peruse at any time. We put breadcrumbs on every page that told us how we got to where we were, and how to get back.
And, we always put a home button on the far left of the navigation.
We expected the website to be able to show us all possible destinations, to have organized paths to all destinations, and to constantly keep track of where we were at any given time, and to give us lots of escape routes to get back to the beginning.
Websites that failed to do this were considered subpar, inferior, poorly designed, and amateur.
The best websites of 2007 were mirrors of how we used technology in 2007.
By the same logic, the best websites of 2017 mirror how we use technology in 2017.
It is hard to believe that the iPhone came out less than ten years ago; it, as well as all of its copycats, are inseparable parts of the business world today. For better or worse — and I could argue worse, but that is a whole other blog post — these devices allow us to be “at work” whenever we need to be. Unless your job requires you to be face-to-face in the same physical location as your client, there is little you can’t do with a smartphone. I recently built an entire WordPress site using only my iPhone. It was not as easy as using my computer, but it was still way easier than the way we built websites on any device in 2007. It was incredible.
Most technology pundits would agree that the smartphone and the connected, mobile, touchscreen device are the future of computing. Currently, they handle more of our workload than many people realize.
Using these devices has changed the way we use technology overall. Instead of installing software with discs, we download apps that are synced and updated via “the cloud.” The vast majority of users have no idea where the actual software files store on their smartphone. Files and documents are managed through separate apps, and often stored in the cloud. People don’t have a document folder with sub-folders anymore; we open up apps and bring up the thing we are working on there. The cloud keeps the file synced across multiple devices, where you can edit the same word processing file on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop — and you can grant someone else real-time access to do the same on their devices — without any of you physically downloading the file.
Modern websites are reflective of this use as well. People enter your website from at all different points: via a post shared on social media, a link to a specific page on a search engine, and so on. Modern users are not looking for a hierarchical experience on your website, they don’t want to drill down sub-page after sub-page, they don’t want the huge drop down menus, and they don’t need a home button.
What they want is to get directly to the information or content that brought them to your website, engage with it, and move on.
Almost like having separate apps on a smartphone, I tend to look at modern web design as requiring separate “content areas” that are each able to function on their own. Your “products” section should be able to perform its mission without requiring people to also go to your “about” section, and vice versa.
Through the strategic use of sidebars and footers and other micro-navigation, as well as clever manipulation of your brand colors and typography, a designer can create a single website that is a shell for several disparate content sections, each related to the other, but each also able to stand alone with its own specific design elements and functionality.
A clever, modern designer can the same static elements — header, footer, color scheme, fonts — to frame and deliver very different types of content. A user that comes to this website for one type of content may never choose to engage with a different kind of content. However, every option you want them to have, every call to action you want them to engage with, is present.
Does it matter if they ever get back to the “home” page? Why would it? In 2017, good design should create a way for the user to get to exactly what they want, as quickly and directly as possible. If users want to explore other areas, good design should make it easy to do so… as an option, but never as a requirement.
So why would they ever need a home button?
The home button suggests a return to the beginning, but a modern website should have no beginning; rather, it should exist in a circular fashion.
Instead of having a front door and a long hallway of doors, like websites had in 2007, imagine your website today as one of those cool schools in California where all the classrooms open up to a shared, outdoor courtyard, and people can just wander around as they need. Imagine your new website like the new Apple headquarters, designed as a large circle with a beautiful shared green space inside, where employees can take whatever path feels best to them to reach the areas they need.
So Is The Home Page Dead?
No. The home page is a critically important page with one of the most important jobs on your website: engaging new users.
The home page is evolving into a landing page, your primary platform for selling your website. It is where you convince new visitors that your website is legitimate and worthy and the place they need to be. It is the launching point for any sales funnel or to direct visitors to take whatever action it is you want them to take.
It is like a beautiful entrance to your website, that should introduce all of the key areas and offer some guidance on where to go next. Like when you walk into an amusement park or a dinosaur park; you home page should meet and greet and deliver a powerful first impression.But why do you need to make sure that every single user on your website has a permanent direct link back to the front door?
In most cases, you don’t need to do that.
In most cases, you are harming your brand if you do.
Because sticking to an element that was expected in 2007 but is not relevant in 2017 can easily cause your website to appear old, outdated, and behind the times. It can make your website seem to cater to the way we used to engage with technology and to ignore the way we engage with technology today.
I am not sure what the exact purpose is for your website, or who your target audience is, but I doubt very much that you can afford to appear old and outdated.
In my opinion, it is not about A/B test or heatmaps, it is about creating a website for my clients that tell their stories to their audience.
I want them to be successful, I want their website to out-perform their expectations, I want them to tell their friends and family what a great web design team we have, and I want them to come back to me years from now when it is time to create them something new.
Design trends change over time. The way we use technology changes over time Those are two threads of the same cloth, weaving around each other, influencing each other.
A sound designer recognizes change and works hard to keep up.
I am all about delivering the best possible website I can every time and using every possible method to create authenticity and legitimacy for my clients. A big part of that is looking like your website wasn’t built based on best practices from 2007.
I know you don’t need a home button, and in 2017 I don’t think you want one, either.
Adrian Hoppel is the owner of Hoppel Design.
He has been designing and building websites since 2002 and hating on the home button since 2012.