Don’t be deceived by the unassuming little side menu button shaped like a hamburger, that icon is the death of your mobile app. No matter what you call it, be it a side menu, a “more” button, a navigation drawer, or a delectable hamburger, the content-filled button needs to go. The button is doing your mobile app a disservice by hiding all of your wonderful features off-screen behind a generic icon. We are not alone in the belief that the hamburger button is representative of poor mobile design; A/B tests, interaction theory, and some of the most widely used apps today have rejected the use of the button. But, why is the button so bad? It’s simple, the button is bad for your app’s user engagement rate, which is the quantifiable representation of your app’s success.
We have all heard the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and the same rule applies to your mobile app. By shoving your navigation options into a generic button, you are depriving users of content because these features will be ignored and forgotten, or at least used less frequently. Insult is added to injury when the button is placed in the top left corner (which it most often is) because that is the most difficult location to tap for a user with one available hand.
Hamburger buttons are inefficient because the user has to tap a button to view the options available to them. The app becomes harder to glance at forcing users to waste time with app navigation to see new content or any notifications and messages. Many apps have yet to ditch the hamburger button because it offers app designers the ability to cram a lot of content into a tiny mobile app. This content-cram is especially popular for companies trying to squish a full-featured website into a tiny mobile app.
You may be wondering, “What alternatives are there to the hamburger button?” Don’t worry, we have alternatives. By replacing the side menu button with a tab bar or creative navigation scheme, you can significantly increase your user’s engagement.
The Tab Bar
The tab bar is a simplified row of continuously visible buttons located somewhere on the app at all times. The typical location of choice for the bar is at the bottom of the screen, allowing mobile users easy access to the buttons. The buttons grant users access to different parts of the mobile app while still featuring the tab bar on the screen. You can ensure users don’t forget about your app’s available features by having the buttons constantly visible. You do lose a bit of screen space by having the bar constantly taking up real estate, but it is worth the space sacrifice. Even Facebook has learned the error of its ways and switched from a hamburger button to a tab bar when they updated the app for iOS7.
A/B testing proved that the hamburger button truly is damaging to user engagement. By testing two navigation schemes, one with the hamburger button, one with a tab bar, the mobile app Zeebox saw significant user engagement differences. The mobile app with the tab bar performed significantly better than the hamburger button, with 8.7% higher average daily frequency of app use.
Another alternative to the hamburger button is to streamline your app to be more singularly purposed. Slimming down bloated apps has become a popular practice for many large-name mobile applications, including Facebook’s Messenger and Forsquare’s Swarm.
With most of the major apps adopting the tab bars, it seems as though companies are learning the damaging effects of the hamburger button. So if you have an app with the hamburger, or are considering developing an app with the generic button, think again. Put your thinking cap on and consider the mobile user’s experience, then do everything you can to streamline and simplify your app until it is the most pure representation of your brand.