What is a Hamburger Navigation Menu?
The hamburger menu is a hot topic in design debates. You’ve probably seen it before – the three horizontal lines that you click or tap to open a site’s menu.
Hamburger navigation icons became popular a few years ago. They were used most frequently in apps or mobile versions of a website. And at the time, they seemed like an easy way to save space. The hamburger menu reduced clutter and left room for a more aesthetically pleasing design. Designers could call attention to the main content of a page without the distraction of a long menu. Hamburger menus took off and even began appearing on desktop sites.
There was just one problem. Website visitors didn’t understand the hamburger icon. Hamburger navigation prioritized design with fully considering user experience. As a result, visitors missed out on important menu items.
Why the Hamburger Menu Is Ineffective
With A/B testing, researchers found that hamburger menu icons simply didn’t perform well. There are two primary reasons why hamburger menus have failed.
- Too Abstract: Icons and symbols are abstract. Some symbols are universal, like a house silhouette leading to the home page or a magnifying glass representing a search, but most are not. People interpret icons differently based on region, nationality, and culture. The hamburger menu icon was too abstract for users to understand right away. Three simple lines give no hint about the icon’s content and can represent almost anything. User testing also revealed that people did not, and still may not, associate three lines with a menu button.
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The more actions required to reach a destination, the less likely users are to get there. The hamburger icon has the unfortunate effect of hiding your menu and any vital information users might want to access. Users who don’t understand the icon won’t be able to find your content. And users who do get it need to go through the extra step of opening up your menu, wait for the menu to load, and finally, identify the page they want to visit.
The hamburger icon may provide a clean design, but its user interface (UI) is inefficient. Why create more work for your visitors?
Alternatives to the Hamburger Menu
Hamburger navigation isn’t the only way to keep your user experience streamlined. Try a different menu format to help visitors find your content quickly.
- Bottom Navigation Menu: In many mobile web designs, menu items are listed at the bottom of the page. You can see this menu as a list of text items or a small banner of symbols and text. Social media apps often use this type of banner menu. Whether you use text or icons is up to you, but be careful to avoid more confusion. It’s ideal to include text with any symbols so the content of each link is clear to users.
- Limited Menu: Because visitors expect to see a menu at the top of a website, keeping a regular menu can provide a good user experience. If your menu is too long, consider choosing the most important and most actionable items as normal text. Then collapse the remaining menu items in an off-canvas menu listed under a clear heading like “More.”
Website Navigation Design Trends
While design patterns produce websites that look pleasing when static, trends in navigation address the practicality and usability of a site. An effective user interface is the main concern in website navigation patterns.
As we learned more about how users interact with sites, design debates on engagement arose. While the hamburger navigation icon had its benefits, today most experts agree that the ambiguous symbol is better left out. Visitors still use and appreciate traditional menus. Focus on a design that keeps navigation easy for users and highlights your most important content.
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