Exploring Navigation Conventions Across Federal Reserve Bank Websites

The United States Federal Reserve banking system is broken up into 12 districts or regions, each of which is overseen by a regional bank. Don’t ask me how but I was recently looking at the websites for these banks.

As I did so, I started thinking about navigation design. I am always interested in the similarities and differences in the way that different people organize information that covers the same subject matter.

Whether it is the grouping of information on a home page or the ordering of links in a main navigation bar, it is fascinating to see what conventions are followed and (for better or worse) where these trends are ignored.

District map of US Federal Reserve banks
District map of US Federal Reserve banks

I assume that each of the 12 Federal Reserve district websites serves pretty much the same purpose for their respective regions. As such, I thought it would be interesting to examine how each site organized their main navigation and see what naming conventions would emerge.

As I reviewed the navigation labels, it became evident that the banks organized their site content into seven main categories of information (with a few outliers that I will touch on later). The table below shows the labels used by each bank with regard to these seven categories.

Research Banking Education Community
Atlanta Research & Data Banking Education Community Development
Boston Research & Data Banking Information Education Resources Community Development
Chicago Research Banking Education
Cleveland Research Banking Learning Center Community Development
Dallas Research & Data Banking Economic Education Community Development
Kansas City Research & Data Banking Education Community Development
Minneapolis Research Banking Community & Education
New York Economic Research Financial Institution Supervision Outreach & Education
Philadelphia Research & Data Bank Resources Education Community Development
Richmond Research Banking Education Community Development
San Francisco Research Banking Supervision Education Community
St. Louis Research & Data Banking Education Resources Community Development
About Us News & Events Publications
Atlanta About the Fed News & Events
Boston About the Fed News & Events Publications
Chicago Events Publications
Cleveland About Us
Dallas Publications
Kansas City About Us Newsroom Publications
Minneapolis About the Fed News & Events Publications
New York About the New York Fed
Philadelphia
Richmond About Us Press Room Pulications
San Francisco Our District
St. Louis About Us Newsroom Publications

When you organize the different site navigation schemes like this, naming conventions and any anomalies really stand out!

For certain types of content, there appears to be strong consensus in terms of naming conventions – for example, ‘Publications’. This leads me to wonder why any website would choose to use a non-standard label – for example, why did San Francisco choose ‘Our District’ rather than ‘About Us’?

We all know that people spend 99% of their time on websites other than yours, so it is always a good idea to follow convention and use labels that the majority of other sites use.

Some sites also used links that few, if any, other sites included. Surprisingly, only two websites included a ‘Home’ link, although in the majority of cases there was plenty of room in the navbar to include this link. New York and Chicago included a ‘Markets’ link, which makes sense as they both have stock exchanges.

A few websites included a link to information about the regional economy, although these were not consistently named. Other labels that were placed in the primary navigation included Cash, People, Globalization Institute, and For the Public.

Also interesting was the fact that there was little consistency in the order of the labels, showing that there was no common agreement on the hierarchy of the information being linked to.

For example, no one navigation option was commonly agreed to be the most important and therefore listed first. The first navigation option fell into three groups (excluding the two instances of Home) – Research (5x), About Us (4x), and Banking (3x).

About Us was as frequently listed as the last option (4x) as the first. So, for some banks it is the most important navigation link and for some, the least important!

As a reference, here are the site headers for all 12 websites, showing the primary navigation for each (click to view a full-size version):

Atlanta

Atlanta federal reserve bank website navigation

Atlanta federal reserve bank website navigation

Boston

Boston federal reserve bank website navigation

Boston federal reserve bank website navigation

Chicago

Chicago federal reserve bank website navigation

Chicago federal reserve bank website navigation

Cleveland

Cleveland federal reserve bank website navigation

Cleveland federal reserve bank website navigation

Dallas

Dallas federal reserve bank website navigation

Dallas federal reserve bank website navigation

Kansas City

Kansas City federal reserve bank website navigation
Kansas City federal reserve bank website navigation

Minneapolis

Minneapolis federal reserve bank website navigation
Minneapolis federal reserve bank website navigation

New York

New York federal reserve bank website navigation
New York federal reserve bank website navigation

Philadelphia

Philadelphia federal reserve bank website navigation
Philadelphia federal reserve bank website navigation

Richmond

Richmond federal reserve bank website navigation
Richmond federal reserve bank website navigation

San Francisco

San Francisco federal reserve bank website navigation
San Francisco federal reserve bank website navigation

St. Louis

St. Louis federal reserve bank website navigation
St. Louis federal reserve bank website navigation

To wrap up, I find it interesting to uncover navigation conventions across websites with a common theme and thus discover how information on a subject you know nothing about is organized.

This also makes the reasoning behind the occasional labeling exception all the more fascinating. Why would you chose label A when everyone else chose label B? What went into that decision-making process?

Other Observations

For some reason, Minneapolis chose to place their logo on the right side of the header. This makes it less obvious where you can click to return to the home page than when the logo is on the left, with the site name next to it.

Surprisingly, several sites had no logo or mark to go alongside the site name. This is all the more odd considering that all the regional federal reserve banks have their own logo.

Not surprisingly, blue was the most popular color for header designs, given its connection with trust, stability, and wisdom.

Because of their choice of logo placement, Minneapolis was the only site that did not put their search box in the top right-hand corner (where it is most commonly expected to be found by users). In fact, the search box is not visible in the header at all.

Eight sites used a utility navigation bar at the top for secondary links such as Careers and social media icons.

10 of the 12 sites used the naming convention www.[city name]fed.org. Why did two sites opt not to follow this seemingly common-sense approach?