Drop-down menus disadvantages?

14 Sep 2008 - 11:47am
5 years ago
16 replies
6357 reads
Martin Petrov
2008

Hi, I'm new to the IxDA list.

Do you know any good research highlighting the disadvantages of using
drop-downs?

At my company we're having a discussion whether we should stop using
them for our global navigation due to usability concerns. The
discussion evolved into an opinion war between UX and Marketing teams.

I'm trying to convince my colleges that drop-downs for navigation are
wrong, because:

- users don't expect them
- "user's decide first, move second"
- are difficult to operate (menus disappear, Fitt's law, etc)
- category pages (aka pathway/navigational) help users make better
decisions and prevent pogo-sticking

I would appreciate any help, and sorry for my bad English.

Thank you,
Martin Petrov

Comments

14 Sep 2008 - 11:52am
Martin Petrov
2008

Hi, I'm new to the IxDA list.

Do you know any good research highlighting the disadvantages of using
drop-downs?

At my company we're having a discussion whether we should stop using
them for our global navigation due to usability concerns. The
discussion evolved into an opinion war between UX and Marketing teams.

I'm trying to convince my colleges that drop-downs for navigation are
wrong, because:

- users don't expect them
- "user's decide first, move second"
- are difficult to operate (menus disappear, Fitt's law, etc)
- category pages (aka pathway/navigational) help users make better
decisions and prevent pogo-sticking

I would appreciate any help, and sorry for my bad English.

Thank you,
Martin Petrov

14 Sep 2008 - 11:21pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Sep 14, 2008, at 12:52 PM, Martin Petrov wrote:

> Do you know any good research highlighting the disadvantages of using
> drop-downs?
>
> At my company we're having a discussion whether we should stop using
> them for our global navigation due to usability concerns. The
> discussion evolved into an opinion war between UX and Marketing teams.
>
> I'm trying to convince my colleges that drop-downs for navigation are
> wrong, because:
>
> - users don't expect them
> - "user's decide first, move second"
> - are difficult to operate (menus disappear, Fitt's law, etc)
> - category pages (aka pathway/navigational) help users make better
> decisions and prevent pogo-sticking

Hi Martin,

I don't know what makes "good research", but here's what we have:

Usability Tools Podcast: Mouseovers in Navigation
http://tinyurl.com/2obj2j

Users Decide First; Move Second
http://www.uie.com/articles/users_decide_first/

There are two items you're missing from the list above. The first is
the occlusion problem: that the menus can cover things the users want
to get to (such as a search box that appears under the menu bar on http://bestbuy.com
).

The second is the straight-path problem. This comes when there are
horizontal fly-outs (such as the category flyouts on the lower-left of
the http://msnbc.com home page). To get to a lower menu option, the
user's tendency is to move in a straight path to the option, but
because that crosses another base trigger item, the menu disappears
and is replaced by other items. Instead, the user has to learn to move
in two motions -- first directly to the right until over the menu,
then directly down to reach the option. This dual-motion maneuver is
not natural for many and is often frustrating.

In my experience, the best way to convince your colleagues of things
like this is to construct a usability test and have them watch real
users struggle with with drop-downs. If they know to look out for the
list of things you mention, then they'll see them as soon as the users
start to interact with the page design.

Good luck,

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

15 Sep 2008 - 8:28am
mtumi
2004

visibility - you have to click them to see the options. For this
reason radio buttons can be preferable for a small set of selections,
and in some other cases, something else which shows all options like
a list might be preferable.

MT

On Sep 14, 2008, at 12:47 PM, Martin Petrov wrote:

> Hi, I'm new to the IxDA list.
>
> Do you know any good research highlighting the disadvantages of using
> drop-downs?
>
> At my company we're having a discussion whether we should stop using
> them for our global navigation due to usability concerns. The
> discussion evolved into an opinion war between UX and Marketing teams.
>
> I'm trying to convince my colleges that drop-downs for navigation are
> wrong, because:
>
> - users don't expect them
> - "user's decide first, move second"
> - are difficult to operate (menus disappear, Fitt's law, etc)
> - category pages (aka pathway/navigational) help users make better
> decisions and prevent pogo-sticking
>
> I would appreciate any help, and sorry for my bad English.
>
> Thank you,
> Martin Petrov
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

15 Sep 2008 - 8:54am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Sep 15, 2008, at 9:28 AM, Michael Tuminello wrote:

> visibility - you have to click them to see the options. For this
> reason radio buttons can be preferable for a small set of
> selections, and in some other cases, something else which shows all
> options like a list might be preferable.

On the other hand, there is no ambiguity as to what is selected. With
radio buttons, all options are visible regardless of which one is
selected—one has to look for the dot. Menus only show the selected
option. So, when a form is used for viewing information as much as
entering information, I prefer to use menus.

But, using a menu for navigation is very different from using them in
a form for user input. What are the reasons a menu is currently being
used?

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Design is a process -
an intimate collaboration between
engineers, designers, and clients.

- Henry Dreyfuss

15 Sep 2008 - 12:10pm
Anonymous

On Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 06:54, Jack Leon Moffett <jackmoffett at mac.com> wrote:
>
> On Sep 15, 2008, at 9:28 AM, Michael Tuminello wrote:
>
>> visibility - you have to click them to see the options. For this reason radio buttons can be preferable for a small set of selections, and in some other cases, something else which shows all options like a list might be preferable.
>
>
> On the other hand, there is no ambiguity as to what is selected. With radio buttons, all options are visible regardless of which one is selected—one has to look for the dot. Menus only show the selected option. So, when a form is used for viewing information as much as entering information, I prefer to use menus.

If you're concerned about visibility, you could always make the
selected item bold or highlight the background. People are pretty good
at picking those out.

15 Sep 2008 - 10:34am
TimSlavin
2008

Martin,

I would add a practical idea that I've seen implemented, sort of half and
half.

Basically, the top level link that generates the dropdown list is click-able
and leads to the home page for that section of the site. The section home
page has an alternate link only path.

There can be reasons to do both dropdown and link only. In my case, I'm
building a new interface to my online application after realizing the
interface is too cluttered. While I found a link-only way to reduce clutter,
it's more clicks. So I've added a dropdown list that has been brutally
simplified which has much fewer clicks. The dropdown risks you point out,
and Jared points out, are still there although I've worked to minimize or
eliminate them. My dropdown list also is a simple unordered list with CSS to
style and a few lines of javascript, so the code impact is minimal.

When I've had this problem in the past, people arguing between link-only and
dropdown, I found the articles and research at the UIE (Jared's) site and
usability testing were the only ways to resolve these conflicts. Basically
use the research to educate all parties and justify usability testing then
let the users tell us what worked best through testing.

Good luck.

Tim

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Martin
Petrov
Sent: Sunday, September 14, 2008 9:52 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Drop-down menus disadvantages?

Hi, I'm new to the IxDA list.

Do you know any good research highlighting the disadvantages of using
drop-downs?

At my company we're having a discussion whether we should stop using them
for our global navigation due to usability concerns. The discussion evolved
into an opinion war between UX and Marketing teams.

I'm trying to convince my colleges that drop-downs for navigation are wrong,
because:

- users don't expect them
- "user's decide first, move second"
- are difficult to operate (menus disappear, Fitt's law, etc)
- category pages (aka pathway/navigational) help users make better decisions
and prevent pogo-sticking

I would appreciate any help, and sorry for my bad English.

Thank you,
Martin Petrov
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org Unsubscribe ................
http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe List Guidelines ............
http://www.ixda.org/guidelines List Help ..................
http://www.ixda.org/help

15 Sep 2008 - 10:55am
nikolay
2008

Hi all,
I'm a collegue of Martin, we are both from the same UX team of the
company.

I want to provide some details here.

We don't speak about dropdown list as a form control (vs.
radiobuttons) but about so called flyout/pulldown/popup menus.

The problem is that our company is a vendor of UI components for
ASP.NET technology and the menu is one of our products. So, the
reason of our marketing team to use a menu in our site is that we
produce menus and sell them, so we have to use a menu as a navigation
on our site, too.
However, if we manage to convince them that the menu has big
usability issues, it can be removed.

Another big argument of our colleges to use the menu is that there
are many loyal users on our site who know exactly where they want to
go and the menu is very useful for them since they skip the pathway
pages.

We will provide a big sitemap footer on every page and we think that
it will be helpful for that people who want a deep dive.

So, how do you prevail in such kind of discussions? By usability test
only?

Nikolay Angelov

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15 Sep 2008 - 12:21pm
Brian Laing
2008

It was the promise of improved search engine visibility that settled
that argument for our site. Rankings improved significantly following
that and other changes designed to make the site more spider-friendly.

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15 Sep 2008 - 12:24pm
tamlyn
2008

I think Martin is referring to application-style menus rather than
HTML <select> drop-downs.

I tend to agree that they should be avoided however you have to
consider the pros and cons of the alternatives. Here's some research
which suggests that they may not be such a bad idea:
http://www.eastonmass.net/tullis/WebsiteNavigation/WebsiteNavigationPaper.htm

This Nielsen article is about <select> elements but covers some
reasons why drop-downs are troublesome in general:
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001112.html

This article doesn't seem to be based on research but it has some
further reading links which may be useful:
http://mondaybynoon.com/2007/10/29/can-we-do-better-than-dropdowns-is-there-even-a-problem/

If you have the time and resources, the best solution is to build
prototypes of each kind of navigation and test them on people. You may
be proved right or you may be surprised by the results but either way
it should settle the argument.

Tamlyn.

15 Sep 2008 - 3:16pm
sherihy
2008

Obviously visible navigation options are preferred -- but what if
it's a choice between navigational dropdown menus and forcing a user
to click on a category or landing page? Which is the lesser of two
evils, a dropdown menu or an extra click? I have noticed some
websites simply dropping their dropdown menus, without making those
underlying options visible elsewhere.

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16 Sep 2008 - 6:24am
Jeff Seager
2007

Flyouts and dropdowns can present accessibility issues as well.
They're almost universally inaccessible to screen readers unless
you've practiced progressive enhancement from the start. Personally,
I prefer not to marginalize any potential clients by locking them out
in this way.

You can also look at it this way: Because so many people fail to make
a really excellent menu system that's also accessible, this may be an
undeveloped market niche that can yield profit for your company. As we
move forward, accessibility will become more important.

Alternative or secondary navigation is redundant and unnecessary with
adequate planning and engineering (think fallback, not alternative
navigation), and from the standpoint of an accessibility advocate
I'd say that any menu should probably begin its life as simple links
in an unordered list (simple or complex) or perhaps in a table, with
behaviors introduced in your case by the scripting capabilities of
ASP.NET.

For what it's worth, I think it would be great if you can develop an
accessible menu system using server-side scripting.

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16 Sep 2008 - 4:30pm
Anonymous

In my experience, there are more disadvantages than advantages to
using drop down menus for navigational purposes for several reasons.
Here are a few:

1) The user cannot passively scan content before making a selection.
This puts the burden on the user to take an action first.
2) Anything longer than 5 items in a list are too much for a drop
down menu. It gets very tricky to physically pick an item and you can
run into usability issues. Especially if the menu overlaps with other
form elements on a page.
3) Faceted/filtered search is usually a better choice because the
user can quickly scan and make a selection without making an
investment with mouse movement first.
4) Its also better for SEO.

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17 Sep 2008 - 10:25am
Jeff Seager
2007

Elysa's observations are right for perhaps 99.995 percent of existing
drop-down menus, but not for implementations that follow progressive
enhancement principles. Because Martin and Nikolay are working on a
brand-new implementation, my mind is open to the possibility that
theirs could be done right.

For me and my users, accessibility is the first step toward
usability. We can't guarantee accessibility for a menu system that
relies on "event-handlers" including mouseover and onclick. If the
user has disabled javascript, or is using a text-only browser or
screen reader that overlooks javascript, there had better be a
workable fallback. A robust menu system should respond to the mouse
and to link-tabbing equally well; and with proper XHTML structure and
tagging, search engines should easily catalog everything.

It is possible. It just isn't done often enough (yet) to be widely
recognized or adopted. A few years ago, I customized a simple
two-level dropdown based on Gary Burton's EasyMenu
(http://www.easymenu.co.uk/menubuilder/). It will work just as well
with more levels, although that was all I needed. It's lightweight
XHTML, semantically correct, searchable, degrades gracefully,
functions well in every browser I've tested it with including Lynx,
and screen readers navigate it without a hitch. So it can be done.

Adding a behavioral layer to this with ASP.NET, ColdFusion, PHP or
other server-side scripting would be the icing on the cake. Gary
Burton made a commitment to functional simplicity that really pays
off for our users who require full accessibility. I think it's an
equal benefit to everyone else, and I'd love to see it extended.

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17 Sep 2008 - 4:02pm
Matthew Anderson
2008

If the user can highly predict the contents of a drop-down menu's
list, then it might be the best solution. So, for instance, a
country list or month list for date selection make a lot of sense.

For prime navigation where the list contents may be less easy to
predict, however, drop-downs pose the numerous problems cited in the
posts above.

- Matt

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18 Sep 2008 - 7:18am
Martin Petrov
2008

Thank you everybody for your suggestions. We will make use of them in
our discussions with our colleagues.

Meanwhile, we are thinking of what kind of usability test might point
the problems of using drop-downs for

navigation.

We guess we shouldn't concentrate much on statistics, such as number
of clicks and time taken to complete a task.

We can predict most users will have similar success rates, navigating
with or without drop-downs, since all

necessary links will be provided in the content area.

Would you suggest how to approach a usability test trying to
highlight problems with drop-downs?

Martin

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18 Sep 2008 - 2:03pm
Tim Wright
2008

bloody mailing list :)

On Fri, Sep 19, 2008 at 7:02 AM, Tim Wright <sambo.shacklock at gmail.com>wrote:

>
> If you have time and budget, I'd reccommend doing a comparitive test.
> Design both and get users to use both.
>
> It's your choice to get each user to use both (within user test) or have
> seperate users (between users test). Each has different advantages/problems:
>
> 1. between users tests means that different users use different interfaces
> so you'll need at least twice as many users and need to control more
> rigorously for user differences.
>
> 2. within users tests means that you'll need to control for learning
> effects - users will tend to perform the second task faster! You can control
> for this by using different tasks or randomising the order of the
> interfaces.
>
> Hope that helps!
>
> Tim
>
>
> On Fri, Sep 19, 2008 at 12:18 AM, Maritn Petrov <m.p.petrov at gmail.com>wrote:
>
>> Thank you everybody for your suggestions. We will make use of them in
>> our discussions with our colleagues.
>>
>> Meanwhile, we are thinking of what kind of usability test might point
>> the problems of using drop-downs for
>>
>> navigation.
>>
>> We guess we shouldn't concentrate much on statistics, such as number
>> of clicks and time taken to complete a task.
>>
>> We can predict most users will have similar success rates, navigating
>> with or without drop-downs, since all
>>
>> necessary links will be provided in the content area.
>>
>> Would you suggest how to approach a usability test trying to
>> highlight problems with drop-downs?
>>
>> Martin
>>
>>
>> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
>> Posted from the new ixda.org
>> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=32933
>>
>>
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>>
>
>
>
> --
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> ai tiki tāua.
>

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