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I work for a large university, and we're trying to come up with some ideas for our drop-down menus, which are fairly standard, not too fancy.

The university has their main site, and many sub-sites, each of which has its own set of menu links. Besides the domain name and theming, these are essentially all separate sites.

These sub-sites often link to each other in their main menus, which can be disorienting. You click on a link in a menu, go to a page, want to look at the same menu, but you're on a different site entirely, so you have different menu options.

Are there good ways to visually distinguish these cross-site menu links? I'm wondering if an arrow icon next to the link or something would help let people know they're leaving the site.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'd simply use a small, unobtrusive "New Window" icon....

enter image description here

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Why not put all of the external links in to one dropdown list entitled Partners or similar, and use all of the subtle indicators suggested in this post?

I won't pretend any of these are my own ideas, they come from all of the others on this post. I've just added the twist of putting it in to its own dropdown menu, because to me, that makes much more sense than mixing it in with the internal navigation.

enter image description here

With all of the indicators combined, I think it's quite obviously saying 'These links go outside of the site', or simply, 'These links are different, once you click on them you'll see why'.

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I would do something like this if I could, but the information architecture of such a large university is too complex to organize simply. This is part of the reason why the sites cross-link so much in the first place. – Indigenuity Jul 4 '14 at 21:14 Look at BC central button at top..that's a seperate site. So button should represent the theme of site it's being linked to. – Muhammad Umer Jul 22 '14 at 9:48
Yes, i didn't mean it like that.. I meant that it's a good strategy that button represents the site it's taking it to. – Muhammad Umer Jul 22 '14 at 10:56
that's i think instead of using same generic icon to show outward link it'd be much better to show icon that resembles the logo of external sites or function of those sites. – Muhammad Umer Jul 23 '14 at 0:58

If you have to include each one on a site why not create a multi-color navigation panel that uses the colors for each site if they are different. Clicking the top level will target a new page to the site, but also allow for drop down navigation with the color styled as the background or do a solid line on the left or right to still indicate that you're in the site.

Something maybe like this but I would use a simple line on the bottom instead of a solid color background:

enter image description here

If you're required to list all of these I would also add a Sitemap in the footer for easy access.

From a personal web design perspective, I would target each site possibly as a pre-header at the top that doesn't use a dropdown but a target="_blank to the site. This will help with a better experience and then just code the footer for each site with the site as the header and the links below it with each site's main navigation panel. Generate a post-footer option with a link to Sitemap

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what font is this – Muhammad Umer Jul 23 '14 at 2:57

You should certainly give them a different appearance somehow (it could be almost anything, so long as it's consistent on all the sites), but accompany it with title="Opens a different website in a new window so the message pops up as a tooltip on hover. You could also take the visitor to an intermediate page that tells them they're leaving the current site.

Unless you've a compelling reason not to, I would also recommend making all such links target="_blank", to minimize the confusion.

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I hate sites that open a new window without me asking them to. – TRiG Jul 2 '14 at 21:44
Agreed with @TRiG. From a UX point of view, this is awful; users can already choose to open it in a new window. See this question on UX.SE for insight. – Schism Jul 3 '14 at 2:15

Maybe having an icon about subject or logo or theme of the external site representing will help.

enter image description here

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Could we change text link color when hovering over help menu items? The color used at the moment seems too similar.this may help us distinguish it , but is it possible?

idea from EAN BARCODE

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Hi there, and welcome to GD! This does not really answer the question, and are better suited for the comments-field. Your post will most likely be removed for that reason, but you can edit it to address the question if you like. Do not let that stop you from participating; we know that using this site is a learning curve. – Benteh Jul 22 '14 at 10:07
Your link is broken! – Yisela Jul 22 '14 at 10:26

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