In the creative industry, trends often catch on because they look pretty and it seems like everyone else is doing it. Hamburger menus are a trend that I’ve noticed everywhere recently, and I’m here to give you some tough love and tell you to stop.
Using a hamburger menu is hurting your conversions. It’s making your site more difficult to use and making it less likely that your potential clients (aka the people who are going to give you money) will find what they are looking for.
Background: History of the Hamburger Menu
You’re probably familiar with what a hamburger menu is, but if not, let’s break it down. A hamburger menu is those three lines that kind of look like a list but also kind of look like a hamburger. It’s used to show there’s a hidden menu that can be revealed by clicking on it.
History lesson time: the first known use of the hamburger menu was for the Xerox Star, the first graphical user interface (basically, a program on a screen that a user interacts with). It resurfaced in the late 2000s when smartphones became mainstream and designers were forced to “hide” some items to reserve screen space. Hamburger menus were a simple solution to the problem of limited screen real estate.
Somehow, in the next decade, the hamburger menu spread like wildfire. No longer reserved only for mobile, you now probably come across it on dozens of websites every day.
Why Hamburger Menus aren’t Optimal
Along the way, we lost sight of the true purpose of the hamburger menu: as a place to nest less important navigation items in the interest of reserving screen space. The truth is, a hamburger menu is not optimal. It requires more cognitive work for users to find it and determine its purpose, and it also requires an extra click for them to use it. In web design, it’s always better to make things as obvious as possible.
The Nielsen Norman group (aka the web design gods) conducted a study where they gave users different “tasks” (completing a contact form, for example) and observed them completing the tasks on sites with and without hamburger menus. They found that on desktop (as opposed to mobile) sites, users were significantly less likely to complete a task and significantly more likely to think the task was difficult if a hamburger menu was used.
Your website is an airport, not a museum. Your potential clients don’t visit your site to admire how pretty it is; they visit to GO somewhere. Maybe it’s to find out how much wedding photography costs. Maybe it’s to schedule a consultation. As a creative entrepreneur trying to grow profits, it’s in your interest to make those things as easy as possible for them! Hamburger menus are still a good choice for mobile, where the cost of less effective navigation is outweighed by the cost of losing screen space. On desktop, however, a hamburger menu is making it unnecessarily difficult for your users.
There’s a Better Way
I wish I had a trendy, innovative solution to tell you about, but the solution is astonishingly simple: just stop using hamburger menus on desktop! You’ve got 1440 pixels to work with, so use ‘em baby! As creative entrepreneurs, our websites usually consist of only about 5-7 primary pages anyway, so there is truly no need to hide any navigation items.
Many creatives choose a hamburger menu because they think it looks prettier or cleaner. I urge you to give yourself permission to let go of this type of thinking. There are plenty of websites that look pretty, clean, AND use a clear and straightforward navigation menu. Besides, who cares if it looks pretty if it’s not helping you book clients?
If you have been using a hamburger menu on your desktop site, I challenge you to get rid of it and display your navigation outright. And if you do, let me know! I’d love to hear how it goes.
Do you use a hamburger menu on desktop? If so, did this change your mind about using it?