Hamburger navigation menus and their use in web design
29 February 2016

Hamburger navigation menus and their use in web design

Web designers call it "the hamburger". The three stacked lines, often in one of the top corners of a website, which users click to see a menu of pages on the site. Its use is ubiquitous across websites when viewed on smaller screens such as mobiles and tablets. However as visitors' familiarity with this icon has grown, the use of this navigation solution on desktop versions of more sites is also increasing.

Minimalism is a design trend which has endured and grown over the last few years due to its focus on clean, simple and easy-to-navigate aesthetics. It is therefore of little surprise that hamburger menus are popular on desktop websites as they promote minimalism in terms of both design and function. Placing your website's navigation under a hamburger menu makes the design of the site sleeker and cleaner and most people are now familiar enough with the pattern and action required. But this is most definitely something which won't work for every website and has several pitfalls.

We would generally advise against using this style of menu for e-commerce and news sites where the consequences could possibly be harmful. On news and ecommerce websites discoverability of topics and items are critical to the user experience and forcing users to open the navigation menu in this situation may create unnecessary friction.

Time Magazine is an example of a news based website which does use a hamburger menu. However they have attempted to combat discoverability issues with a 'just posted' column to the left of the page which shows recent news stories. There is also a prominent search feature. However hidden navigation can still alienate users as they still need to click to view the full content/topics of a site as appose to scanning the page.

Web design is all about laying out elements and prioritising the elements of a site to regulate how and when visitors absorb your key information. Even if your website's global navigation is difficult to design and perhaps even hard to maintain, we believe that most sites will still see the benefits of displaying their top-level categories to users straight away. It's without doubt one of the most effective ways of enabling visitors to quickly grasp what your website is about.

If you did decide to implement a hamburger menu there are a couple of ways to check it hasn't had a detrimental affect on your website's effectiveness. Rising bounce rates on your landing pages is the first indicator. If visitors are having trouble navigating your site or you are creating user friction then they won't stick around. The second idicator is where users are clicking, are they actually clicking the hamburger menu? If not then you know something is amiss. User behavior determines whether you should use a hidden navigation drawer on a full-desktop site. Don’t sacrifice usability and discoverability for aesthetics.

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