1. Simplicity is Key to Intuitive Menus
In UX/UI design, simplicity can be considered synonymous with intuitiveness. The simpler the menu, the easier it will be for users to navigate. Here are some suggestions on how to maintain simplicity:
- reduce the number of menu items to the essentials to prevent overwhelming users;
- ensure that each navigation element serves a specific purpose and does not enable more than one action;
- adopt progressive disclosure to keep the primary menu as minimalistic as possible.
To ensure that the most critical functionality of your product is easily accessible, prioritize the most frequently used actions. To identify these actions, consider the 20% of components that account for 80% of user interactions. For maximum convenience, display them in a billboard pattern.
Consistency is essential for every component of your design.
For the menu, maintain consistency in the color scheme, fonts, the use of whitespace, and icons. Ensure the latter are used with a clear purpose, for instance, employ menu icons that offer immediate feedback, such as indicating an open accordion.
The labels you use for your menu items should also be clear and concise, while any ambiguity in terminology should be avoided. Labels must not mislead users and should guide them to the expected result of an interaction.
Furthermore, take into account how new users who have never interacted with your product can interpret your labels.
4. Visual Hierarchy
Consistent design, as discussed above, will help you establish a visual hierarchy that can be utilized to emphasize primary menu items and submenus. Manipulating colors, fonts, and sizes can enhance the user’s experience when navigating menus.
You can explore the application of visual hierarchy in digital products on https://www.widelab.co/.
5. Responsive Design
If the product will be used on both desktop computers and mobile devices, it is necessary to ensure that the menu is adaptable to different orientations and screen sizes.
Pay attention to the correct placement of menu elements when optimizing the product for mobile devices. The appropriate size of menu items and buttons will help users to prevent accidental taps. Meanwhile, locating interactive elements in optimal spots will make them easily accessible with a thumb.
Moreover, utilize responsiveness to provide feedback to your users regarding the menu’s state. For example, you can use animations or highlighting to indicate a mouseover and touch interactions.
6. Correct use of nested accordion
An accordion menu is one of the most popular types of menus, proven to work effectively on both mobile and desktop devices. Such a menu features collapsible sections that reveal options or subcategories upon clicking. Due to these properties, an accordion menu can save space and support the representation of actions in complex software or websites in a clear hierarchical order.
However, if a product offers more categories or actions, an accordion menu can become confusing for new users who may not be familiar with how the information is organized.
In this case, employing visual hierarchy through contrasting colors, indicating levels with different icons, and utilizing progressive disclosure, as mentioned above, can significantly reduce the learning curve for new users.
7. Navigation stack and sliding menus
In the case of some products, users may also find an additional navigation stack beneficial. This element can further enhance navigation by allowing them to quickly switch between different levels. This can be a particularly valuable addition to products that rely on sliding menus.
Furthermore, to help users change levels in sliding menus more easily, you can design a menu that will display only one level at a time. Using contextual labels instead of a generic “back” button, and emphasizing linking through a visual hierarchy are more tricks that can improve user experience.
8. Dealing with complexity
As already mentioned in the first tip, simplicity is key to successful menu design. As a rule, maintaining simplicity is not a particularly challenging task for websites and applications with moderate complexity. However, you might encounter a situation where the navigation architecture of your product extends beyond three levels.
This is a sign that the current architecture should be reevaluated. In fact, three levels of navigation can already be too complex to navigate for users, especially for those who are new to your product.
9. Avoiding common mistakes
In most cases, products designed by industry experts, including websites and apps by Widelab, are aligned with the recommendations mentioned in this article. Ignoring these tips can result in common mistakes such as:
- an overloaded menu;
- lack of visual hierarchy;
- inconsistent terminology;
- inadequate labeling;
- unclear feedback;
- lack of mobile responsiveness.
Furthermore, menus should prioritize accessibility, including optimization for screen readers and providing text alternatives for non-text content.
Creating an intuitive menu can be quite challenging, especially if your website or app has rich functionality or numerous categories of content. In such cases, experimentation may be necessary to find the optimal solution that maintains menu intuitiveness, but it is still sensible to consider the menu design principles discussed above.
For the majority of less complicated products, these principles should work effectively without the need for excessive experimentation.
However, in both cases, it is essential to ensure that the menu design functions as intended. The best way to achieve this is by conducting research, testing the redesigned menu with users, and collecting and analyzing their feedback.
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