Should I use nouns or verbs when naming navigation?

Mar 17, 2015

A friend of mine was working on a feature for a travel site that showed possible trips travelers could go on. He was adding this new page to the navigation and couldn’t decide if he should name it Trips or Find a Trip.

After a few questions about the page, I told him to name it Trips. Here’s why:

When it comes to naming navigation items, most problems can be solved by looking at the page and asking “is the goal of the page is to show content or a process?

If it’s content, use a noun.

If it’s a process, use an “action phrase”.

For naming content, use nouns

When I say content, I’m using the word loosely here. Basically, content is whenever the main purpose of the page is to show information (photos, articles, data, categories, etc.).

Examples:

For naming processes, use “action phrases”

A process is simply whenever the user has to do something to get a result, usually by filling out a form.

Examples:

It’s tempting to use a verb by itself to keep navigation visually clean and consistent. Don’t do that. Rather than making it clever, it makes the navigation ambiguous and confusing. By removing the noun (the what your verb is referring to) it leaves the navigation up to interpretation.

Try to be concrete and clear with the action verb used. View, Learn, and Explore are weak action verbs and should probably be avoided.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a clear action phrase because the process has multiple steps (like finding available flights and booking), only include the next step (Search Flights) rather than trying to include all the steps (Search Flights and Book).

What if the page has both content and a process?

If it has both, decide what is the primary focus of the page and what is secondary.

For example:

Content and Process

If the users’ goal is to learn more about a trip that interests them, they could successfully find one without using the filtering options at all. They might use filtering, but their goal is probably to find a trip and click on it for more information. So we would say the content is primary and the filters are secondary.

There are always exceptions

For every design rule, there’s a dozen exceptions. If you have a situation where this rule doesn’t apply, aim to be clear over clever. Your users will thank you for it.

If you have a question about designing interfaces, ask me about it on Twitter. Maybe it can be part of a future post.

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