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Even real-life menus come with constraints. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Four Tradeoffs When Designing Navigation Menus

Should the menu convey breadth or depth?

Amazon.com shows us what happens when you aim to convey both breadth and depth. I stretched the browser window across two screens to reveal everything in the top nav. Remember when they just sold books?

How does the navigation support users with different levels of familiarity?

At first blush, Motley Fool’s navigation seems to prioritize new users, even folks new to investing. Leading with “Our Services” signals they want to educate potential customers about what they do.

What purpose does this menu serve?

IMDB, perhaps my favorite site on the web, has a main menu that feels like a hodge-podge of features, barely organized. I sense this menu’s main purpose is to convey everything that IMDB does, but may also serve entertainment industry pros who aren’t searching for a movie or TV show.

How does the menu invite users to participate?

Lego divides their online presence into two sites. Their ecommerce site keeps the navigation concise, inviting participation with three simple verbs. No doubt they know that you’re mostly likely there to buy (or at least look around the store). This menu focuses on the actions.
By contrast, Lego’s entertainment site — seemingly targeted at kids — reveals the “composition” of their product line. No actions in this menu. Instead, we see content types (games, videos) and topics (the themes of the toys).
A snapshot of my working document where I’m developing the structure and content for the tradeoffs.



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Dan Brown

Designer • Co-founder of @eightshapes • Author of 3 books on UX • http://bit.ly/danbooks • Board gamer • Family cook