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Drop Down Menus

Posted on April 1, 2009

I recently read an article discussing drop down menus and their effectiveness, and it got me thinking. As a designer I never saw drop down menus as a problem before, unless they were poorly executed. But this article got me thinking about how and when drop down menus should be used and what their purpose is. Here are some of my more brilliant thoughts.

The first and most important purpose of a drop down menu is to de-clutter. Some sites have so much content that it just doesn’t make sense to list all of the individual links on the home page. It would be overwhelming, cause confusion, and as a result, drive away traffic. Adding drop down menus can help make a web site look more appealing, cleaner and more professional. It also allows the site to be more user-friendly because visitors don’t have to sift through a ton of information/links to find the one or two links that they are interested in. It makes the visitors? experience more enjoyable and informative, and that is after all the main goal of a web site.

A secondary, but still important purpose, is that drop down menus give the site individuality. There are endless options for drop down menus, and as long as they are executed well, they add a positive note to the visitors experience, making the site more enjoyable and more memorable. By doing something unique and creative with the drop downs, you give visitors something to remember, and that will keep them coming back.

And of course, the obvious (and kind of boring) reason that drop down menus are a good idea: the links are organized by topic. This makes it quick and easy to find a specific subject, then find all of the content on the site that relates to it. Visitors can navigate to the topics they want to learn more about, and avoid those they do not. This way visitors don’t have to read through pages of content before they find what they are looking for. It gives the visitor more control over what they see, and doesn’t waste their time with content that they are not interested in.

But of course, drop down menus can go horribly wrong. If they are not carefully planned, the menus can interfere with the rest of the site, they may not function properly or they make the site more cluttered and difficult to navigate through. All of this creates a bad visitor experience and deters visitors from exploring more of the site, or from visiting it again.

Good Examples of Drop Down Menus
www.jnj.com – fluid motion, doesn’t interfere with the content on the page, helps organize and declutter the home page. This type of drop down is a strong design element on the site, the menus are part of the design, not an afterthought.
www.mediatemple.net – Simple and effective way to organize multiple links.
www.tnvacation.com – Simple drop down menus that don’t interfere with the content on the site.
www.fossil.com – Simple drop downs that are minimized, not really a design element, just a way to organize links
www.flowrestaurant.com – A fun and simple example of drop down menus that reinforces the design on the rest of the site.
www.hopewausau.org – Simple drop down menus that don’t interfere with the design or content.

Drop Down Menus Gone Bad
www.navigantconsulting.com – The menus interfere with the text on the index page, making it difficult to read the links.
www.digg.com – This may be a personal preference, but I expect drop down menus to appear when I hover over the link. I don’t expect to have to click on it to see the rest of the menu. So, while these menus are functional, it would make more sense that they automatically appear when you hover over the link.
www.alienware.com – Menus are difficult to read (black on black)


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