The modern publishing world means making critical decisions about things like burgers. In an era when publishers acquired the religion of design, the so-called “hamburger menu,” which appears as three parallel lines and obscures section navigation, has become a divisive tactic. It is presented by some as modern, mobile and minimalist. Others deride it as the latest flavor of the month, recklessly deployed by copier editors desperate for a whiff of digital credit.
Slate, Quartz, Upworthy, Time, and NBCNews all use a variation of the hamburger, where scrolling reveals additional contextual links and sitemaps to more content. The popularity of the menu has grown along with the adoption of mobile, forcing publishers to design sites to suit a wide variety of screen sizes while taking up minimal space. It also serves to declutter the top of web pages, which have often been a riot of section links and various other digital doodads.
“We knew people were coming to the site via computer at one point and mobile at another,” said Dan Check, vice president of technology at Slate, who added the hamburger menu with his redesign in September. . “We wanted to make sure there was some kind of cohesive boating experience between the two.”
But it comes with a compromise. Many user experience experts are not fans of the burger. To many, it smacks of committee design, reminiscent of content carousels that force readers to chase after content. “It makes absolutely no sense to me from a UI or UX perspective, if your menu really has to be so incredibly large that you can’t display it properly without hiding it behind a click. on some pretty nondescript icon, you should probably have a closer look at your content strategy, ”designer Ben Garratt written a year ago.
Users are often confused. James Foster, software designer at Exis Web, tested the hamburger menu and found that it was clicked 20% less than a simple “Menu” button. Its findings corroborate those of user experience research firm NNGroup, which forand that users still do not know the new icon.
Editors tend to be aware of the problem. NBCNews.com adds a “menu” below its hamburger icon. Time, which added the menu alongside its redesign in March, also presents new readers with a message (dubbed “hamburger helper”) that explains what the menu icon means. Sites like Upworthy, Slate, and Quartz, on the other hand, don’t add any additional details.
“That’s when you know you’ve done something wrong – that you have to explain it,” said Kevin Kearney, CEO of Hard Candy Shell, who blacklisted the burger menu. in his own designs.
But if the hamburger menu is so unintuitive for readers right now, why are so many editors insisting on using it?
Charming Robot CEO Dan Maccarone argued that the problem, at the root, is a lack of imagination. The editors are adding the hamburger menu because other sites have added it, not because there is a lot of data to support its effectiveness, he said. What works for Upworthy, for example, might not work for Time, which has an older readership who might be even less familiar with the meaning of the burger icon.
“People are copying things that haven’t even been validated by the companies they’re copying,” Kearney added.
But Daniel Bernard, Time.com product manager, rejects this assessment. While readers are still adjusting to the design of its burger menu, they’ll figure it out soon enough. “One of the things we were trying to accomplish with this overhaul was to think about the future and where people are going,” he said. “We were confident that they would get there and that we could be one of the sites that helped them.”
While this sounds in part like the typical quarrel for interface designers, it can also have real and practical effects on publishers’ bottom lines. Design decisions that confuse readers too much will scare them away, decimating traffic. And publishers rarely seek a smaller audience.
And it’s not like every publisher is doing it blindly. Dan Check, vice president of technology at Slate, said the site uses the menu to segment casual readers from repeat readers. So-called “advanced users,” who are looking for specific content, will click on it, according to the reflection, while those who don’t will just scroll through the main feed.
Zach Seward, editor at Quartz, said the site has given a lot of thought to implementing the hamburger menu, which he says users increasingly expect to see at the top of sites. Even still, he, like others, takes a deliberate and vigilant approach.
“Should he say ‘menu’ on top of that or instead? ” He asked. “We are thinking about all of this and will definitely be testing these elements as we continually redesign the site. “
Photo: Flickr / Daniel Oines