While I agree with most of what you’re saying, you really can’t critique someone’s design if you…
Victor Stuber

I really appreciate the response. And, there have been a few people who’ve made the same suggestion — that it’s unfair or unwise to criticize something without offering solutions.

  1. First off, I don’t believe that’s generally true. It’s not necessary that the writer of a critical article also is the one to carry the solutions — sure it makes the case stronger, but just being frustrated by a solvable issue is enough to write a critique.
  2. That said, there are possible solutions to many of the examples I used. I was trying to stay focused in the article, but let me lay out a few ideas here:

Avoid adding complexity altogether

This is going to sound trite, but the first step is just choosing what to (not) include. Compare the Android clock app and the iOS clock app for phones. On Android, there is an overflow menu that has “Settings” “Night mode” and “Send Feedback” under it. The Apple version simply doesn’t have settings or a night mode or a way to send feedback. That’s not a matter of having a less full-featured application… it’s a matter of ruthless prioritization.

Prioritization and just choosing to not include features is the number one way to avoid overusing overflow menus and it’s also the most difficult to achieve. It means you have to be involved in difficult conversations with your co-workers and you have to learn a hundred ways to say “no.” Franky, most people and most organizations think they’re good at prioritization and people will nod along to this paragraph but they don’t do it —the evidence is in their products.

Don’t waffle — show it or don’t show it

Another example I harp on is the Google Images search double overflow menus for “More” and “Search Tools.” The simple solution to the confusion between these overflow menus would be to nix the second one and just show the search tools by default. Even just showing a few most-used search tools as a nibble with the others hidden would make the menu more clear because the overflow menu would be contextual. I vaguely remember Google Images used to show some filtering options by default, so maybe there’s a good reason that it doesn’t work this way anymore, but that’s possibly good solution. Otherwise…

Use clear language for overflow menus

Most overflow menus use “More” or “Options” or simply little arrow icons as labels. This is very vague and makes overflows into junk drawers that could contain just about anything. If you’re going to hide menu options, do everyone a service and make it more clear and more structured. The Google Images search example could be clearer if the “Search options” was more clearly related to image searching instead of searching generally: “Image filters” or “Advanced image search” or… I bet Google’s excellent copywriters can do better than my off-the-top-of-my-head examples.

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