A variable object screen are where navigation can break. A navigation menu cannot hold all of the digital product screens. Knowing funnel flows, overlaid contents, and variable objects location within information architecture helps break things at the right spot.
When we think about navigation, we consider the whole process of staring in one place and ending somewhere else, with various stops along the way. As users, we click, without mindful elaboration, whether the element we interacted with was a button, tab, link or menu item. It is a mental shortcut.
Navigation is a menu put in place by website creators. It can hold a various number of items organised on multiple levels. In most cases, navigation will take you to a particular stop along your way. What is nature, or that stop?
I started calling this
a variable object screen. In e-commerce, this can be a product page. On blogs and news sites, it is an article. I called it an object because it is stored somewhere, has an abstraction or a template, and can be manipulated and has an interface manifestation. There can be many variations to the object, more actions or pieces of information associated with them, and sometimes objects hold many more layers on information architecture.
A product on e-commerce with electronics will be one of a thousand, have specifications, controls to change its parameters, images that can open to full screen, links to other sections, and many more.
Objects are the destination point for people using digital tools. And objects are rarely part of the navigation (menu with labels). To reach the object we are looking for, we have three ways:
- directly – know the URL of the object,
- find it – use a feature, like a search, that will give a direct link to that object only, based on the query people make,
- browse, filter, sort through a list or grid of many objects.
Inside objects themselves, there might be navigation or control elements specific for that object.
The main navigation can change when reaching a variable object screen, just as it changes for funnelled flows or overlaid contents. (But always designer must make sure that people will understand how to navigate the product.)
When discussing digital design, we should stop confusing navigation with information architecture and identify where variable objects are in the content structure. When we do this, we can consider a change in the navigation menu.