Nautilus: Intuitive navigation lacks consistency

Nautilus is a science magazine that “delivers big-picture science by reporting on a single monthly topic from multiple perspectives.” The publication just received a National Magazine Award for its website so I thought I’d take a look. The website has a modern, clean design that’s easy to navigate but occasionally inconsistent.

Homepage of Nautilus' website
This is the homepage of the website.
Sidebar navigation
Each article from the issue has the same navigation bar as the homepage featured on the right side.

The homepage offers a tile presentation of the latest stories from a given issue. The layout is common enough that users will understand it but unique enough to set this website apart from its competitors. The navigation bar on the lefts allows users to view the other “chapters” of the issue. This same navigation bar appears within each of the articles from the issue and adds consistency to the website.

Scrolling further down the page, users will find clearly defined sections for other content on the site, including the blog, a feature called “Three sentence science” and reading suggestions. This last section, titled “Popular on Nautilus,” is especially helpful for users who have not visited the site recently. They can choose to see the most read or most shared articles to help them find new content. Some websites have similar features higher up on the homepage, but I like this placement because the magazine does not have as much content. Featuring this higher on the page would not provide many insights from day to day for users and would ineffective.

A permanent navigation bar at the top of the screen also allows users to roam the website easily. I liked that some features, like the search bar and the issues archive, were a drop down menu but didn’t understand why this was not the case for all the features.

Here is an example of how some features of the top navigation bar also act as a drop down menu.
Some features of the navigation bar, like the search function, dropped down from the menu.

The click-ability of the site is easily understood through common signals such as highlighted text and image movement. The only problem I found was within the “Three sentence science” section. On the actual page with this content, each headline links to an outside source of the information. Normally headlines do not also serve as links so this was disorienting.

An arrow points to a symbol indicating this story includes a video.
The arrow points to the symbol indicating this story includes a video.

Finally, symbols were used to denote the use of videos. This small addition goes a long way to give the user more information about the story. When I clicked on this story, the video replaced where a feature image might be followed by some brief text introducing and contextualizing the topic. Then I found a list of videos and selected another expecting a viewing window to appear below. Instead, I heard the audio and realized that the video was playing in the same place as the opening segment at the top of the page. While I enjoyed being able to choose which parts of the video I watched, it was very strange to then have to scroll up in order to see what I selected.

Most of the inconsistencies I found would not be a problem for the average user of the site because as Krug states people form mental maps of websites. However with a few small changes, the experience of new and old users alike would be flawless.


One thought on “Nautilus: Intuitive navigation lacks consistency

  1. I like this website. It’s quite pretty to look at – although it certainly has its flaws.

    I agree that there should be more consistency between whether a menu is drop down or not. Particularly with the issues/blog/search, I saw the issues dropped down, and so I was not expecting to be taken directly to the blog when I clicked that link. I anticipated the drop down feature.

    One thing about this website I don’t like very much is the font usage. I think they use too many fonts of different types. Personally, if you’re using sans serif fonts you shouldn’t also use serif fonts. It takes away from the overall cleanliness of the site. I also don’t like how the homepage has so much to it. It felt like you could just keep scrolling forever and ever, which is obviously not the case, but I would prefer a simpler and shorter homepage.

    Regardless, I feel the website does a nice job of combining neutral colors with vivid colors to add a sense of life and modernity without overwhelming the viewer. It also makes me want to read these science-themed articles, so I commend Nautilus for that.


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