Pattern 15: Sense of location ***

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You are concerned with making your site as convenient and user-friendly as possible. The user needs to map his location in the content jungle that is the site. He may ask: how did I get here? How can I get back? What is nearby?

You already know how important FEEDBACK (41) is. Therefore you want to provide feedback on the user’s location. It is important for users to relate the location in the site to the corresponding one in their mental model of it. You are building on the SITE MAP (12) and a USER-CENTRED SITE STRUCTURE (13) to provide this.

How do you indicate to users where they are and what the context is, including routing information?


Always make sure that you provide visitors with clear cues as to where they are on every page, however they arrived there. This gives a sense of location in the surrounding context. Several important patterns help with this as discussed below.

Use CANONICAL LOCATION (21); i.e. Use a NAVIGATION BAR (25) and BREADCRUMBS (23) and make sure that you have the SITE LOGO AT TOP LEFT (24). Do this within a THREE-REGION LAYOUT (26). Use micro-site branding (colour, logo etc.) Use STRUCTURED MENUS (19) and insist upon the RHETORIC OF ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE (20).

Contributors and sources
Chris Simons

Discussion - forces - known uses

There are several ways by which a visitor might reach a page within your site. All is probably well (in a well-designed site) if she has navigated from the home page. However, perhaps she got the URL from an acquaintance by email, retrieved a bookmark, used a search engine or followed a link from someone else’s site. You need to assure the user that she is where she thinks she is or tell her where she has actually ended up. The information provided by the browser is usually not noticed by users and, in any case, is probably insufficient.

Having a brand logo on every page helps say, at least, what the site is – providing the logo is well-known or self-explanatory.
A NAVIGATION BAR (25) should provide information as to the site structure and nearby content. It should display a visual hierarchy if possible. If the user has arrived from another location in your site the BREADCRUMBS (23) will help too. But we defer discussion of these patterns until we get to them.

Every page should be carefully named. This clarifies the location and its function for the user. If the page name corresponds to frequently used search strings you site will get better scores from search engines. So find out what the common searches are (rather than the strings you think people ought to search on). Services that provide this information include Word Tracker (

If the user navigated to the page by clicking something then that some thing should have the same name as the page.
Use newspaper style headlines to display the page name. Centre it above the content it refers to.

If possible name your pages using URLs that are easily read and interpreted by humans. This too will reinforce a sense of location.

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