The best type of menu for Apps.

SO the dreaded time has arrived… you have to decide what’s the best type of menu to use in the app you are working on. You know you need to have attention to the latest trends or else your work will be lagging behind. There are so many options, the three dash or “hamburger” menu, opening from the logo on top, drawers from the left, tab menu, etc. Arggghh so many to choose from…

Relax… you can follow trends but ultimately that’s not why you choose how you are going to present the menu for the App you are working on.

Making sense of the menu

Let us go back a bit. What is the reason in the first place for the need of a menu? Usually it’s because there are a lot of screens to go through in the app or the features don’t really fit in the screen at the same time. And what if you had only three screens to go through? Would you still go for a “hamburger” menu?

The question you have to think about is: why do you have that many screens or features, that they need to be in a screen of itself (a hidden drawer)?

Let me tell you a bit about Apple’s reasoning when they did the first interfaces in the first iOS. And this is one great example of great design that is usually in the sidelines and is not noticed.

As you probably know since the first guidelines to the iOS it is written that your App should have a taskbar at the bottom and that taskbar should be used to change through screens and “navigate” the major areas of the app. The top bar is really the “navigation” bar that has the back button so you could navigate back from certain details.

The taskbar accommodates 5 buttons tops and more would require a “…” with more options. The purpose of this was not to make it hard to build a menu but to make you think about what really is the focus of an App and let go of the extra chaff. You need to really design the app and distill what is really necessary  so the app can be functional, fast and usable.

But of course, soon came the corporate apps, the productivity tools designed by engineers or business man and quickly broke the rule, because the engineer mind thinks analytically and there is always a need to put every option available to the user. And usability wise that really is not necessary. The best apps are indeed those the are focused on their purpose.

Right now it’s rare to see a real care or sense of structure on the structure of an App and screens are added as the business owner feels necessary to show off his company. He demands them to make his money worth…

Evolution

But things do evolve, and app design took several turns, the market matured and more and more you feel the need to organize the information and sometimes that information just doesn’t fit five major areas. Then the hamburger menu came up. Why? Because it’s an easy way to create “space” for every screen of feature. So it is becoming a trend. What’s the problem with this? What it does is hiding your content. Being hidden doesn’t mean is more organized. If your app structure sucks hiding it won’t make it better. Want an example?

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See the difference in the Youtube App for Android. Annotation by Luke Wroblewski

The biggies are realizing that they are losing engagement, simply because if it’s hidden there is a chance the user won’t see it fully.

If you need more details you can check these links here, that last one being real extensive but covers web also.

Hamburger vs Menu : The final A/B Testing

Killing Off the Global Navigation: One Trend to Avoid

 

Cutting things short

The trick here is to take time to really create a good information architecture, to really focus on the essentials of the app and to actually Design the app instead of listing areas and features you think the app should have. Do you really need the hidden menu? Is having a calendar really necessary? Is that “About” page solving anything? Is it possible to focus on the major feature and show content to the user as quickly as possible? Try to avoid “out of standards” menus, and try to avoid complex and broken information structure.

Structure the app. I think it was Einstein (correct me if I’m wrong) that said something like: any idiot can add the hard part is to remove. Make sense of what are your real needs in the app are and distill them to the essentials. Take out stuff until you try and figure out if you can have all you need in a tab system or a taskbar. Maybe it won’t be possible for several reasons but the exercise will be great I can assure you. Only then you will decide what’s best. Yes you can be creative with it, but you always have to measure the effectiveness of your decision and the ability to get engagement.

So generally hiding you menu or options is not a good idea whatever the type of menu you choose. It’s not a matter of choosing, it’s a matter of “what fits best” for the information structure (architecture) you have.

If you are lucky maybe an article about how to work some information architecture will show up in the blog ????

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