The idea behind my navigation stress test is to ask some really hard questions about your web site navigation to see if it can "pass". It is called a "stress test" because most pages will not pass. The failures may be serious, or they may not matter at all, but at least by performing the test you will have discussed the navigation issues and made conscious design decisions.
The questions are detailed ways to ask about 3 basic concerns users often have upon arriving at a page:
Have other members of your team, and people who know nothing about your site, do the stress test too. Then compare notes. Where did you agree? Where did no one agree?
For the "problem" areas, you have several choices for action to take. You may want to re-design some elements of your navigation based on what you discover with the stress test. Or, you may use it to help focus a round of usability testing (to see if it actually matters for your users). Or, you may very well know what you are doing and say "interesting to see the results of this test, but they do not apply in our situation".
Mark Up on the Paper
What is this page about?
Draw a rectangle around the title of the page or write it on the paper yourself
What site is this?
Circle the site name, or write it on the paper yourself
What are the major sections of this site?
Label with X
What major section is this page in?
Draw a triangle around the X
What is "up" 1 level from here?
Label with U
How do I get to the home page of this site?
Label with H
How do I get to the top of this section of the site?
Label with T
What does each group of links represent?
Circle the major groups of links and label.
How might you get to this page from the site home page?
Write the set of selections as: Choice 1 > Choice 2 > .... Connect the visual elements on the page that tell you this.
I have used The Hockey Example (see the attachments below) to introduce the Navigation Stress Test for the past few years because the design makes it hard to answer many of the questions.
Common discussion questions for this example: