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Should you use drop down menus in web design?

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Opinion of both web users and web designers is somewhat split on this issue – should you use drop down menus in your web design? One argument says that they’re awkward to use, confusing and get in the way. Another argument says that they can be a useful navigation tool and can help to simplify web layouts that could otherwise be quite complicated.
Whichever side of the argument you stand on, it’s hard to deny that drop down menus are a popular fixture of web design. There are definitely some situations where they should be avoided or at least handled very carefully – such as in mobile or tablet designs, where they don’t work in the same way as they do on desktops – but they can be a useful feature of websites.
There are plenty of examples of useful drop down menus. For example, if a website features lots of different categories but they don’t all merit a position in the ‘top spot’ on the main menu of the site, secondary menus can be a good option. They can also be useful for websites looking to divide things into categories – ecommerce sites arranging categories of products, for instance. They can also be useful for blogs and other sites where things are arranged by topic.
So there are lots of ways web designers can utilise these menus and, as mentioned above, they can help to clean up the navigation of a website that is required to hold lots of information. After all, getting around a website should be as easy as possible for the user; putting everything into clearly defined menus makes sense in a lot of cases. It can also help to avoid users having to scroll down through lots of information to find what they’re looking for, effectively working to compact the site to make it cleaner and simpler.
However, there are some fairly obvious things to consider whenever you are using drop down menus in web design. The issue of whether to activate the menus through clicking or hovering the mouse pointer over them is probably one of the most significant things to think about. On the one hand, hovering over the menu to activate the drop down feature makes things very simple for the user. The problem occurs when the menu then disappears if they accidentally move the pointer away from it, leading to them having to start over again.
For this reason, it is often recommended to make the menus of a significant size so that this is less of an issue. Another solution is to set up the website so that if a user strays from a hover menu, they have to click elsewhere on the screen to get rid of it. By contrast, if the menu is activated by clicking on a particular tab, it can be easier for users to then select the category that they are looking for. This option can also be more effective for mobile web design, not least because mobile devices tend not to respond to a hovering pointer.
There is also the issue of how many sub-menus are linked to the main drop down menu. If there are too many on there, it’s simply reintroducing problems that the menu was originally supposed to solve, so keeping it to a single drop down menu – perhaps with one sub-menu if absolutely necessary – is often a good idea.
Also, don’t forget that any menus that are included need to be in keeping with the design of the site. They can offer an interesting design opportunity, but ideally they need to be clean and easy to read as well as easy to use. Clear, concise category names in a clear font are generally a good way to go. The menu also needs to react straight away to action from a user; they shouldn’t be left waiting and wondering whether they actually clicked on the menu if it fails to load in good time.
Overall, drop down menus can be an interesting feature of web design, and they can help to organise sites more effectively. However, just as with any other design aspect, they need to be carefully planned and integrated into the site to ensure the user experience is as good as it is expected to be.

By Chelsey Evans

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The benefits of a minimalist web design

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

As a theory, minimalism is all about getting back to the essentials – taking out anything that could be considered extraneous and just keeping only what is absolutely needed. This is one of the reasons it works so well as a concept in web design.

Of course, minimalism is not the only style of website design, but it is a very popular one and it is something that can work well for many websites. There are plenty of reasons for this, including the issue of usability. We have written before about the importance of usability in web design, and in a way, minimalism is highly focused on that.

It forces us – the web designer, as well as the client – to think about what the website in question is actually for. What is its purpose? Who is its audience? Does it really need all of that content, or could it perhaps be pared down and made more easily readable? This focus on only what is necessary means that everything that ultimately ends up on the website is essential, and hopefully therefore of benefit to the user.

It can also have benefits for the layout of web designs. Rather than worrying that everything will end up looking a bit cluttered, the focus is on keeping everything as clean and simple as possible. This means that websites need to be properly organised right from the very first planning stages, so that when they are finished, their layout and navigation make perfect sense.

Another benefit of minimalist web design is that the webpages can be significantly quicker to load. For example, there might be fewer complicated graphics utilised, or the same stylesheets might be reused for different pages to limit the amount of heavy content that would slow the load time of webpages. When we consider that many web users will go and visit another website instead if the first one doesn’t load fast enough, this has obvious benefits.

Minimalist web design can also be very attractive; just because it has an emphasis on simplicity, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be visually appealing. A great deal of impact can be made from a simple colour scheme or just a few different graphics. Clear, easy to read fonts are another common feature of minimalist designs, and this is another bonus.

In a way, minimalism in web design allows the content to speak for itself. Rather than risking being overwhelmed by lots of images or interactive content, what content there is can really shine. This highlights another point – that minimalism is about quality. After all, if the design is being kept very simple and the content is allowed to speak for itself, it all needs to be of the very highest standard.

It also means that web designers cannot be afraid of whitespace; not every little corner of the website has to be filled with content. Space can be a good thing if it is utilised properly and properly incorporated into the design. The idea of minimalism can also be very good for design generally: it forces us to think more carefully about what we are doing and to be more creative in order to ensure the website still looks fantastic and is as innovative as possible.

After all, just because it’s minimalist, it shouldn’t be boring. The website should still look compelling and draw people in, making them want to find out more. This presents a challenge, but it is definitely not an unwelcome one.

Minimalist web design is not something that will be suitable for all websites. Some sites simply demand a different style of design. It could be that the company the site is being designed for wants something different, or that the work they do doesn’t really lend itself to minimalism. Another type of design might work better; some sites can benefit from a range of interactive graphics and more complex features.

However, for many, minimalism can be a very good option. It forces us to think in different ways and means we have to be very clear about our purpose and making the most of what we have got – and when it comes to creating high quality, easy to use web designs that is definitely no bad thing.

By Chelsey Evans

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