Mobile Sites and Hamburgers?

Did you notice the hamburger in this photo? I sure didn’t. And once it was pointed out to me, I was a little surprised. I mean … do you see the size of that thing? And why are they drinking wine with it? And who dresses like that to eat a burger? Don’t these people understand hamburgers at all?

It turns out that plenty of mobile device users have this experience with the hamburger icons commonly used for smartphone navigation.

What’s a hamburger icon? That’s the little stack of lines you see on your smartphone sometimes:


Or, more to the point, don’t see. The stack of lines reminded someone of a hamburger, so it has come to be called that by lots of people. Norm Cox, the original designer, might not have called it that, but the name has stuck — for some of us.

But most people not only don’t know what it’s called, they don’t even see it. net magazine reports that the use of the hamburger icon for mobile websites doesn’t work. People don’t see it until they really look, they’re not expecting to have to do things in order to get where they want to go on their smartphones, and the hamburger doesn’t really tell them what’s going on.

As Francois Jordaan points out, menus are not only intended to get people from the homepage to their destination. They also provide information about the content and goals of the site. Jordaan is talking about the increasing use of hamburgers on desktop websites (by designers who forget that their design is supposed to be functional), but it’s relevant for responsive design and mobile design as well.

If you can avoid using it, do. Navigation is not usually the place to get creative.

A commenter at Jordaan’s site says that only a few people, in his testing, have had any trouble. I want to know the sample size; are we saying that a few of the ten he tested with had trouble? If so, that’s way too many for me. Do you want thirty percent or so of your visitors to be confused? I also want to know who he’s testing with. If a few designers in the building had trouble or a few of the clients’ employees, that is a much more serious problem than if a few of the client’s 200-person focus group had trouble.

For me, it’s enough to know that usability studies have shown the hamburger doesn’t work as well as we think it does. If we must use it, then we must, but we should try to structure the mobile experience so that it’s not required for the most essential mobile uses of the websites.







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