The Hamburger Icon

When common practices and trends should be questioned.

Gavin Elliott
May 27, 2014 · 3 min read

Whether you want to call it a hamburger, navigation or menu icon, that dear little thing looks like it’s here to stay. It’s our own fault, we created it.

We try to question its use, some have even gone as far as to test it. Many of us hate it yet carry on to use it as an option in design.


Gone are the days where little things took decades to take hold. We’re in a new world where things are different. Our next generations are proving younger and smarter than we were in the past. Where we were taught skills in writing our children and children’s children are now qualifying themselves as explorers of devices figuring things out as they go along.

On the other hand, we’ve got older generations who have been the longest users of web, the digitally connected who expect the most of what we create. They want to search and find, they like tasks to be simple and not take up too much time. They become used to navigating in a certain way and when we commit to new design changes it causes them to navigate the web and applications so differently that they notice immediately.

But what should they expect, we’re pushing more features into more apps and more links and information into websites than ever before. 40% of the worlds population are now connected and browsing the web is no longer just through mobile and desktop. We’ve now got smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart TV’s and games consoles all connected to the web.


That thing we call a hamburger or navigation icon… The way we think it’s used for end users… We’ve shown total disregard for how people outside of ‘our world’ use applications and the web.

When was the last time you asked someone what they call navigation without asking a leading question? Try asking someone off the street what they call the top section of a website or how they navigate back to the home area of a site. Do it and you’ll be surprised of their response. Now try it with different age ranges and see what they come back with.

You’ll find that they don’t call things the same as we do and they navigate in ways you’d never imagine until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. I’ve had a logo described as “the icon that takes me home” and a site navigation labelled as “the information to get more information”.

Before you forget, it’s a rarity that we design for ourselves so giving names and presuming it’s going to be used the way we do is shortsighted at best.


What have we done?

We created a ‘design trend’ which impacted millions of users and they’re yet to figure out what it is and why we’ve introduced it. We then left it in there and it became common place in our world.

As designers, we’ve taken to use the icon in applications and responsive web design to represent navigation, menus and extra information and if that’s been done because it was ‘trendy’ in our own world then I’m sorry but we need to stop and pause for a moment.

What should we do?

Our users want the most important things in our app’s and websites to visible so they can be used and navigated without it being confusing. Let’s not just throw that stuff behind an ‘that’ icon because everyone else is doing it.

Let us test, review and analyse how our users are navigating our apps and websites and truly provide the best experience for them because that’s what we should be doing.

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