Fixed Headers and Navigation Bars Used in Web Design

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The trend of fixed heading styles in web design has grown exponentially in recent years. I have read a lot of criticism, both for and against these techniques, and generally it boils down to personal preference. Lots of designers have a problem dealing with navbars overtaking their screen with little-to-no value added into the user experience. Others find these techniques immensely helpful, as they provide quick access to popular links without the need to scroll way back up to the top of the page.

In this article I want to delve a bit deeper into these trends of fixed headers and navigation bars. I want to look at some examples for how this may be constructed on your own website projects, and where the trends may be leading as we forge ahead into the future. There are certainly issues to deal with regarding these trends and I hope to briefly touch upon the potential tribulations for this user experience. But if you can build a fixed header that still leaves plenty of room for page content, it may just prove to be a winning design interface.

Static Navbars

The first and most obvious interface is to apply your navigation bar settings so that they look natural in the page. This means you can setup a layout where the top navigation appears to blend naturally along with the other page elements. Take the example from Theory’s website.

theory website design fixed navigation

The entire heading area appears to fit naturally right at the top of the page. It is difficult to tell the navigation is fixed until you begin scrolling down the page. It also demonstrates a good purpose of using parallax single-page scrolling. Everything can be located at the click of a link and users are not rummaging through a complicated navigation structure. These fixed bars can work wonders for a website’s branding design.

The largest issue is combating a difficult experience on mobile devices. It is possible to redesign the layout so it all forms responsively to the smaller browser window. However the fixed navigation bar can still be a problem since there is not as much room for content. It should be obvious that parallax single-page websites can benefit the most by using this technique.

Easy-Access to Content

Another good reason why different sites will use this style of navigation is for easy-access to important webpages. Even if there are lots of other sub-pages you can still point out the most common ones which gather the most number of pageviews. This can help first-time visitors to gauge the type of content on your site and how much interest they really have.

Square-Enix Nova Crystallis blog website navbar

Nova Crystallis is a Square-Enix online magazine which also uses the fixed navigation bar technique. This is a good example to illustrate how content may still be accessed while keeping a fixed navigation. The website logo and popular categories are listed at the top in an orderly fashion. This navigation provides easy access to other post archives where readers may find similar articles.

Granted, online blogs and magazines are not the only websites for using fixed topbars. Almost any website can use this technique, but you really want to consider how it will affect user experience. Often times you can fit this navigation into content-heavy websites much easier because of the larger page number. Consider how frequently users may look to browse other categories and sections within a website. Social networks are another great example where users are frequently switching between pages, and the fixed navigation provides a quick solution.

Typical UX Problems

The biggest issue I have noticed is a lack of support for mobile devices. Responsive layouts are very commonplace yet they are not perfect to use in every project. But an even worse idea is to keep a very large fixed navigation bar on your mobile site, while also scaling the site to “width=device-width” in the viewport. It forces all the page text to conform into the mobile browser which may be partially covered by the top navigation bar.

Your typical visitor from their laptop or desktop should have enough room to clearly read the page content. As long as the fixed navigation is given extra space at the top then every visitor will have space to access the page from their home monitor. Even tablet computers may still provide an acceptable browsing experience – but handling mobile traffic can be a confusing exception. I would typically recommend dropping the fixed navigation and moving to a mobile-friendly alternative.

Hidden navigation menus can be seen everywhere. Even this exact Treehouse blog layout has a mobile responsive solution with a hidden menu. Recognizing that mobile screens are much smaller than any other, you can provide a cleaner experience from almost any device. It may be worthwhile to poll some visitors for their feedback and see how your navigation ideas are landing.

Fixed Page Headings

Often times I am surprised to find this design style in so many layouts. Using a fixed heading panel is a unique way to setup background images or videos above-the-fold of your website. These could also be vector illustrations, your company logo, branding, really any webpage elements to catch the visitor’s attention. The homepage of Google Ventures is one example.

google ventures website fixed header image

Fixed headers will not scroll down the page and continue along with the user. Rather the background image and contents inside the header appear to stay fixed as the user scrolls. This makes the entire header behave as its own independent “panel” offset by the rest of the layout. The technique is more useful as an aesthetic design effect than anything else. But you want to capture a user’s attention right after they land on your page and this is one way to do so.

carbure logo background image layout fixed parallax website

Rolling with the Page

Now this style of design has really stood out to me because it is quick to notice and often very elegant. When you initially land on a page you will notice the navigation and heading area blends naturally. Then as you begin scrolling past a certain point the header will reshape itself and appear fixed at the top of the page. Scrolling back up the header un-sticks itself and you find the same layout as when the page first loaded.

hongkiat rolling fixed navigation navbar menu

Hongkiat is a great example of this technique in action. The regular header at the top of the page will include links to categories and other pages on the blog. As you scroll beyond the header a new fixed navigation bar will appear. This is very small and does not take up a whole lot of space. You will find the website logo and a small collection of social media sharing badges. This gives your visitors access to quick information as they need it, while also keeping the full header accessible at the very top of the page.

99u magazine fixed navigation bar webdesign inspiration

The reason I enjoy rolling headers is because each website has the chance to experiment by changing up the content. Your top header may be a lot bigger than the fixed alternative, and so you have the chance to include only the most important links. As long as the fixed navbar isn’t taking up massive screen real estate then you can expect mostly positive feedback.

Design Gallery

Along with the tips above I also would like to share a brief gallery of design examples. Fellow designers who are interested in these trends may not know exactly where to get started. And what a better method of doing research than by checking out other similar websites using these techniques? I have put together another 30 various website layouts using fixed headers and navigation elements. Check out the showcase gallery and feel free to share your own thoughts with us in the post discussion area below.

Happy Cog

web design development studio happycog navigation

Supereight Studio

responsive portfolio website supereight navigation

Tone Agency

tone uk webdesign development branding agency homepage

Fundatia Comunitara

fixed sliding navbar website layout minimalist

Girl with a Camera

fixed sidebar navigation links girl camera blog

Resoluut

website layout webdesign inspiration resoluut

Character

character san francisco california branding agency website

Creative Sloth

creative sloth london website layout fixed navbar

G’nosh

gnosh website header fixed layout inspiration

OK-Studios

ok studios website layout fixed navbar inspiration

Bullet PR

london website agency webdesign inspiration fixed navbar

Hornall Anderson

hornall anderson website layout fixed navigation

Themecrunch

themecrunch website layout white basic inspiration

Inspiration Dormant

inspiration dormant website portfolio layout inspiring

Workdiary

Michael Schmid portfolio website workdiary layout

Fat-Man Collective

animation fixed sidebar website layout inspiration

IGN Corporate

ign website corporate layout fixed navigation

The Fount

the fount website layout inspiration webdesign colorful

Jacksonville Art Walk

love website artwalk layout fixed navigation inspiring

MediaParker

mediaparker website hosting layout homepage theme

Kitchen Sink Studios

kitchen sink studios website layout fixed navigation

Holcomb Guitars

holcomb guitars website wooden layout interface webdesign

Campbell Creek Mini Storage

storage facility website fixed header footer

Solid Soup

solid soup creative studio website layout portfolio fixed navigation

3W-Pool

online shop german website layout fixed navigation

The Hub

coffee bicycles hub website layout fixed navbar

Designmodo

designmodo web design blog fixed navigation layout

Electro Chunk

iphone ipad game electrochunk website homepage fixed

Found Colour

found colour website layout inspiration webdesign fixed navigation

Milk & Pixels

milk pixels fixed website navigation agency studio creative

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Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer and user experience designer on the web. He currently publishes development tutorials and articles related to startups and user interface design. Find out more on his website or you can follow his updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau

Comments

6 comments on “Fixed Headers and Navigation Bars Used in Web Design

  1. We actually just soft launched (still some bugs on the responsive design end) a site yesterday that incorporates a lot of the things you mentioned like fixed headers, fixed navs, and responsive implementation of these. Feel free to look it over to see how we handled these challenges http://www.southportoncapecod.com

  2. Another pitfall I have encountered is linking to pages that use anchors (well, IDs now, like page.php#scrolltohere). A menu fixed to the top of a page will often overlap the content you are trying to scroll to.