What do you notice about the website above? It doesn’t have a navigation bar. The text links are floating in space and obscured by the background image. Navigation is there for users to find what they want. That’s hard for them to do without the navigation bar.
The navigation bar is an affordance. Users rely on it like a safety net. When they see it, they know to go there if they get lost. When they can’t see it, they resort to page scrolling and link hunting. What’s the point of having a navigation if you’re not going to make it easy for users to see?
Background Image Is Not More Important Than Navigation
Many sites are removing the navigation bar in favor of an expansive background image. While this might have aesthetic appeal, you’re sacrificing an important usability function. Navigation are the legs of a site. Users will have trouble moving from page to page without it. They can’t use what they can’t see.
Sometimes the background image can lower the text contrast in the navigation. This makes the button labels hard to read. Users won’t click what they can’t read.
Stop removing the affordance that users need to navigate your site. Your background image is not more important than your navigation bar. Leave it in so that users can use it to find what they want quicker.
Links Blend in With Page Text Without the Bar
A navigation that isn’t obscured by a background image is better, but still not ideal. It’s easy for users to mistake the navigation links for page text without the bar.
The function of page text and navigation links are different. Separating them avoids confusion. The bar is what separates links and text, so that users know what they can click versus what they can only read. Without the bar, the links get lost in the page text.
There’s no clearer affordance for navigation than the bar. When they can see it, they’ll use it. When they can’t, they won’t. Getting lost without a map makes you feel helpless. Users feel the same way getting lost on your site without a navigation bar. A thin, modest bar is all it takes to make that feeling go away.