Thoughts / It’s not the hamburger, it’s the menu / August 14, 2015

I read The Hamburger Menu Doesn’t Work.

I thought the article a very interesting one hinging on a topic that requires more discussion and thought. However, I found the title rather misleading. Here are my thoughts.

I think the point is not about the “hamburger” menu (and implicitly the icon being responsible of the misusage) not working, but any catch-all drawer menu not working (by hiding actions under a drawer) including those drawer menus we start seeing in larger-screen implementations, albeit properly labeled “Menu”.

A similar issue happened years ago with the prominence of drop-down and pop-up menus. It happened for the same reason: trying to crunch a crap-load of sections in the smallest space possible. In my opinion, drop-down (and pop-up) menus are useful when they hold items of the same category (I.e. A list of countries, a list of references, a list of sharing services) since then the content might be easier to understand by labeling appropriately (like the aisles of a well-organised supermarket). But when those same menus hold items of varied (and dubious) provenience, they lack the power to suggest and thus effectively hide content from users. And user behaviour and focus being as flimsy as it can be, visitors ends up not being suggested on options they might as well like to explore but just aren’t aware of. Imagine arriving to a supermarket where there are three sections such as “dairy”, “produce” and “drinks” and then a big sign that reads “other stuff”, would you be tempted to go to such an overwhelming, under-appealing area? Who knows. And wouldn’t you get more customers to buy more by showing them more products and guiding them to more suggesting aisles? Probably so.)

It makes sense even in desktop, where for example research we did (at an AOL property, on a big bunch of the iOS/Android top segment of the US population) showed that bringing sections to the main menu (and thus making them visible) improved engagement.

A recent Don Norman article (defiling the new Apple user experience) on why Apple products are confusing so many, he mentions three core principles of good design amongst which there is “discoverability”. Arguing that discovering (and then remembering) what an interface does is of vital importance for users, I’d say “hamburger” menus do the disservice of hiding content, and thus miss the opportunity of suggesting users what to do next or where to go next.

To me after many years, the truest definition of IxD/IA/UX is “helping people make the next decision”. Showing them useful stuff instead of hiding it is hence better since it helps them make the decision on where to go and what to do next.