August 12, 2003

Breadcrumbs Affect User's Mental Model of Web Sites

Wichita State University's Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) has released findings of a study of web breadcrumbs. The results, published in Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage are pretty interesting. Here are a few key points:

"Breadcrumb users were found to use the Back button less often than users who did not use the breadcrumb; however, no differences were found in the efficiency measures of total pages visited, navigation bar clicks, embedded link clicks, or time to complete the search tasks. It is not known if all participants understood the function of the breadcrumb as a navigational tool. Future studies should investigate whether a simple understanding of the purpose of the breadcrumb trail or minimal training impacts usage and/or efficiency.

"Location of the breadcrumb trail did have an effect on usage. Breadcrumb trails positioned under the page title (at eye level and closer to other links on the page) were used more than breadcrumb trails positioned at the top of the page. It is recommended, therefore, that breadcrumb trails be positioned in this location rather than at the top of the page. The results also suggest that exposure to a breadcrumb trail in a site may contribute to the type of site model formed by the user. Participants that used a site with a breadcrumb trail were more likely to choose a hierarchical model than those that used the non-breadcrumb site. This assessment of the user’s mental model requires further study."

I've always thought the value of breadcrumbs was in exposing site structure and helping form a mental model of the site. It'll be interesting to see what additional research the team at SURL conduct in the future.

- Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs
- Research Project: Methods and Models of Navigation in Hypertextual Space
- SURL: Breadcrumb Navigation: An Exploratory Study of Usage

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