Research Underpinnings for Design Best Practices

I had a conversation recently about the research behind why we do things like put the “Login” link in the upper right corner of the navigation bar, put search boxes in the main navigation, repeat navigation items in the footer, that sort of thing. In other words, what’s the research behind some of the best practices we use for laying out websites?

Well, I didn’t have a good answer for that, and after doing a little poking around, I couldn’t much in the way of material to back me up. Sure, I could find articles that told me what the best practices were and that it’s important for me to adopt them, but nothing that mentioned the evidence suggesting that best practices were, in fact, the best. They worked because everyone was doing it, and our websites should be consistent with users’ expectations whenever there isn’t a very good reason to do otherwise.

I really do feel that this is a reasonable argument, but for all I know, we may have all converged on the absolute worst place to display a “Login” link.