Hamburgers Aren’t the Problem; Menus are a Hack

There are a lot of articles warning about the dangers of hiding menus behind hamburger icons. Here’s an in-depth one.

The idea is that users can’t see menu options without clicking an icon, so they never make it to a second or third page.

I’d like to propose a different take on that problem:

Menus themselves are a hack, and listing the main pages of a website as one- or two-word links is not good usability in the first place. (Tweet that)

We need to try harder.

The reason we can’t find a better solution to the hamburger icon is because we’re looking in the wrong place.

A lot of us are hating on the hamburger now, but no one can propose something to do instead. (There are actually some decent alternatives, but they’re harder to design and implement.)

Use the content

I propose that instead of worrying so much about hiding menus, we utilize good design, content and layout to guide users around our websites.

The most appropriate way to guide people to additional information is through the actual content.

We need to help them find what they’re looking for, but we should present it in a more compelling way than a list of links at the top of each page.

Through content, we can provide valuable information or clues to where links lead, and we can use more space to do it.

We can also give people a wider range of more specific choices, which could ultimately help them find what they’re looking for faster than a menu.

As long as it’s organized and easy to scan, content is just as good as, or better than, a menu.

The homepage can be the menu

To call attention to different sections of a website, it’s logical for the homepage to consist of short overviews of different website sections.

The homepage can be a kind of a super menu.

For each “menu option,” it can have images, descriptions, a micro layout, and calls to action instead of a single word.

If the user likes the teaser on the homepage, there are one or more ways to click through to information relevant to that part of the site.

Take a look at the Intercom homepage as an example (and check out everything they do, because they do everything well).

The sections on the homepage roughly correspond with the menu options, but the sections themselves provide more information and interaction than a menu could.

The Intercom homepage is more or less a better version of their menu.

When the homepage serves as a super menu, the actual menu can be thought of as “quick links” or “additional info” instead of a primary navigational tool.

New users scan down the homepage to choose where to go, so they get more information scent than a traditional menu. Experienced users jump to the section they want using the menu as a list of quick links (whether it’s behind a hamburger wall or not).

This setup creates two distinct paths for users. Websites work best by offering both paths at the same time.

Menus cater to return visitors and “super users” who like to move quickly. A super user is typically tech savvy and knows what a hamburger icon is. She finds it right away to see the menu.

Alternatively, page content serves new users better than a menu can. A new user doesn’t want to waste time, but she wants to discover or learn by having information presented to her in an organized and controlled way.

The burgers aren’t the problem

So I’m not actually saying we don’t need menus or even that every homepage should become a menu.

I’m saying the hamburgers aren’t the problem.

The stats speak for themselves, and it appears users do not realize there are menu options behind those hamburger icons. But what about taking the next step?

What about actively helping people find what they’re looking for? It takes more than visible menu options to compel someone to action.

Just imagine how we can improve conversion rate and increase interaction when we try a little harder.

A lot of websites are already doing the homepage super menu. They, and everyone else, might as well use the hamburger icon.

Every website needs a menu, but the focus should shift away from whether it starts hidden or not.

We should look at how else we’re guiding our users around our websites.

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