The Much Maligned Hamburger Menu

If you’re involved in mobile interfaces and user experience, you’ve heard the debates about the hamburger menu.

Debate might be the wrong word. Basically, after years of usage as a mainstay of mobile menu interface design, the wisdom-of-the-crowd turned on it, spurred on by articles from Jakob Nielsen, Redbooth, and The Next Web (among many, many others).

It’s easy to see why–the results are pretty damning: changing from a hamburger menu to persistent navigation doubled interaction and dramatically increased user sessions.

That’s about as cut-and-dried a case as you’re going to get.

Something about these articles felt very obvious to me. We’ve known mystery meat navigation is a bad idea for years. This doesn’t seem like an issue with the hamburger menu–which is, afterall, just a tool. It seems as if the issue is that we as user experience professionals failed in our job to understand user need and design workflows and interfaces accordingly.

Rather than develop an information architecture that speaks to the user, surfacing items of interest and demoting things that might not see much use, we lulled ourselves into the idea that everything could be jammed into a menu and be just a click away.

I’ve seen apps that have taken this debate to heart and now feature eight skinny little tabs across the bottom of the device. That’s just as bad–maybe worse–and shows the same lack of thought put into the user need.

Luke Wroblewski nails it at the end of his article Obvious Always Wins:

Because there’s not a lot of space on mobile screens, not everything can be visible in a mobile UI. This makes mobile design challenging. Unlike the desktop where big screens allow us to squeeze in every feature and function on screen, mobile requires us to make decisions: what’s important enough to be visible on mobile?

Answering that question requires an understanding of what matters to your users and business. In other words, it requires good design.

Hiding those items that mattered to your users was always bad design. The hamburger menu just made it really easy to do.

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