Join Chris Nodder for an in-depth discussion in this video Reviewing some menu myths, part of User Experience for Web Designers.
- There are two rules of thumb that have sprung up in menu design that don't really have a background in research, or rather, they do, but that research has been misinterpreted. The first is that all content should be no more than three clicks away from the home page or else visitors will lose interest. This just isn't true. Having watched literally thousands of people using websites, I can say that sometimes visitors will lose interest on just the first page they see. Other times, they'll continue clicking through many pages of content. What makes the difference is how likely they think it is that they will find the information they're looking for. As we've mentioned already, the clues they see in the navigation and the content on your site are what keep them moving forward.
So it's important to provide them with the sign posts that they need by creating good navigation labels and following those up with great headings, summaries, and other content within each page, so that visitors are drawn through your site by a strong center of information. The other concept you might've heard about is the seven plus or minus two rule. Applied to menus, it states that menus should be no longer than nine items. That's seven items plus or minus two items. This rule comes from psychological research into human memory. It refers to the number of items that we can hold in our short-term memory at one time.
Depending upon the task, some people can hold as many as nine items, some people only five, but most people, for most tasks, can hold about seven items. The interesting thing about the seven plus or minus two rule is that although it was never based on or designed for website menus, it actually works quite well. Once you get beyond seven or nine menu items, it gets harder for people to distinguish the item that they need. So even though you can't necessarily relate it back to the memory research, it's a useful design rule to apply. Just don't be scared to break it every now and again. If you're going to have long menus, it really helps if you can group the items into similar chunks and place separators between them.
That helps people quickly identify the relevant chunk, and each chunk is likely to be less than seven plus or minus two items long. So don't worry about the three clicks concept. Instead, make sure you always sign post where your content is. However, it's wise to limit your regular menus to no more than around seven items in a chunk in order to make it easier for visitors to pass the information or find the item they need.
User experience expert Chris Nodder teaches
- What people want from websites, how they search for information, how they read online, and how to structure your content to take advantage of this research
- How to use graphics to help rather than hinder visitors, how to integrate video, audio, and other media, and when to consider interactive rather than static content
- How to look at your site's homepage, forms, product pages, and content through the eyes of users to build a site that better meets their needs
- How to balance site content with advertising
There are never enough great interfaces in the world. Take this easy introduction to start making wonderful online experiences for your own users.
- Building a site visitors will like
- Using single, consistent, and standard design principles
- Creating good menus
- Working with site maps
- Adding search to a site
- Arranging content in a layout
- Writing for the web
- Creating category pages and landing pages
- Designing product pages and forms
- Using media and interactive content
- Balancing ads and content