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The problem with drop-down menus in website navigation

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jun 30, 2010 9:28:00 AM

dropdown_menuThe navigation of a website is one of the most important parts of the design. Without a well-designed navigation, website visitors have difficulty getting where they need to go. This can lead to lost opportunities and revenue.

So what type of website navigation should you use? Many websites still use drop-down navigation. However, there are a number of problems with this style, which is why we generally avoid it at SpinWeb.

One problem with drop-down navigation is that it can cause difficulty for website visitors with limited dexterity. This includes older people, or people with disabilities. The dexterity required to successfully navigate using drop-down navigation can frustrate some people. It's also frequently difficult to use drop-down navigation on a laptop with a touch pad, which applies to a lot of today's mobile workers.

Another downside of drop-down navigation is that they don't always render well on mobile devices. Drop-downs can sometimes render a website unusable on an iPhone or Blackberry and can also make life difficult on iPads.

Drop-down menus can also encourage "navigation creep" in which the website owners keep adding more and more menu options simply because they can. Never mind that it leads to a cumbersome, unusable structure that makes it difficult to navigate the site at all.

Additionally, drop-down navigation menus do not give website visitors a clear indication of where they are in the site. This can lead to frustration and annoyance.

At SpinWeb, we prefer section sidebar navigation. In this style, a new sidebar appears as a sub-menu after a main nav item is clicked. This means that there are no mobile rendering issues, and it's very easy to navigate even with limited dexterity.

Some people argue that every part of your website should be accessible within three clicks and use this as justification for drop-down navigation. However, this has been proven to be a myth. Modern website users are comfortable clicking as much as they need to in order to reach their destination and a logical navigation is much more important than squeezing everything into three clicks.

Drop-down navigation should generally be avoided (with the exception of mega drop-downs) in favor of section sidebar navigation. This will lead to a more comfortable user experience and a more profitable website.

Topics: website

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