Supporting Mobile Navigation in Spite of a Hamburger Menu

 
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Summary: Mobile sites that use the hamburger or three-line menu need to support navigation activities throughout the site, in case users don’t locate or use the main site navigation.
 

"Supporting Mobile Navigation in Spite of a Hamburger Menu"
Nielsen Norman Group, August 16, 2015
Mobile & Tablet, Navigation
By Amy Schade

In mobile designs the hamburger menu or three-line icon is a popular tool to address the concern that on a small screen, space for navigation is limited. Placing the navigation behind a menu is a way to keep it available, but out of the way, giving users access to navigation when they need it.

However, the reason the hamburger menu is useful is also the reason it can be harmful to a website’s business goals. When navigation is visible on a page, it is consistently available, giving users not only quick access to the navigation, but also a way to get an at-a-glance overview of what the site has to offer. When that same navigation is hidden behind a hamburger menu or even a Menu label in a mobile design, there is a higher interaction cost to get the same information – the user has to think about navigation, then locate and expose it in order to view it. If a user cannot or does not locate or expose the navigation, interaction on the site becomes limited. The use of a hamburger menu can reduce the likelihood of users moving around the site.

Not every site is able to limit navigational categories to a number that is easily displayed in a visible navigation bar on a mobile device. This means many designs are drawn to using the hamburger menu, despite its potential drawbacks. So what can a site do to help alleviate the potentially negative effect of using a hamburger menu?

One way to minimize the impact of hidden navigation is to make key user tasks easy to do in the absence of navigation. Imagine a user comes to your site and never finds or uses the primary navigation. How many of your site’s key tasks could still be accomplished?

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