Product Design

Five UX Design Considerations for Implementing Stack Menus

The hamburger icon has become a frequently used icon in mobile apps and websites ever since Facebook released it in September of 2013 as a part of their A/B tests. Today, it has many other names: list icon, navigation menu, triple bar, stack menu, basement menu and the list goes on… The icon represents a hidden side menu users’ cannot see from an app’s main view. When users tap on the icon, however, a menu slides open to reveal the app’s main navigation.   There is a great deal of criticism surrounding this three-horizontal-line icon. Some UX designers argue that users don’t intuitively know what the icon represents, or how it works. Another argument against the usage of the icon is that  hiding an app’s main navigation leads to lower discoverability as users cannot see the navigation options available to them consistently. Users must tap the icon and dive into the app’s side menu in order to access any other content in the app. Once they close the side menu, they are left with no contextual cues letting them know where they are in the app, or the choices available to them as the menu is now off the screen. This also ties into the fact that side menus are not easily glancable, requiring users to take action (e.g. tap the icon) to open the menu and see the options and notifications they might have. But with each piece of criticism comes a respected justification for using the icon and side menu. One could easily protest the fact that users don’t intuitively understand the icon and say that like most patterns, the hamburger icon will become better understood as time passes.  Because it’s a “new” icon, there might need to be a period of learning and user acceptance before users become completely comfortable with this icon and pattern. A user’s understanding of what the icon represents also depends on the app’s target audience, and the deliberate UX choices designers make with that audience in mind. Lack of menu visibility, for example, might be a purposeful design decision to ensure users only focus on key content instead of navigation choices. I think both the hamburger icon and the side menu will be under debate for a long time, or at least until another new pattern emerges to create more controversy. Here are five things every UX designer should consider when trying to decide whether an app should have a side menu: 1. Demographic characteristics of users 2. Important features of the app 3. If the app’s architecture needs to be reorganized or simplified 4. How important navigation is for the use of the app 5. How much time users are likely to spend in the app If you’re still unsure about these items, it might be time to run a few A/B tests or create prototypes to test the best navigation pattern needed for your app to be successful.

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