On Mega Menus And Why They Must Die

Recently a client asked me for my perspective on mega menus. Their organization has a site with hundreds of pages.  A mega menu was being considered as an excellent way for users to access deep content compared to the standard drop-down menu.

What is a mega menu? Here are some screenshots.

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You’ve seen them used judiciously at amazon.com. To see the mega menu, hover over “Accounts & Lists” as you see here.

amazon mega menu screenshot

Here is what I told my client (with a few changes).

You may surmise that I’m less than enthusiastic about using a mega menu. While I’ve tried very hard to keep an open mind on the subject, I find it difficult to recommend that you go ahead with it.

In most situations, I’m happy to share my thoughts about web design and development with a client. This is a reason why I get hired or it ought to be. In **your instance, I have been very reluctant to state my feelings – until now. From the project’s onset I surmised that your organization wanted the features of a mega menu no matter what. So much so that, at times, I felt that you wanted us to build a mega menu so you could attach a web site to it. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it was my impression.

With rare exceptions, you don’t see mega menus used much any more. This certainly includes web sites with deep content (even deeper than your site), like the New York Times and others like it. You won’t find mega menus on their sites.

There are good reasons for this. Here are 2 principal reasons why web sites refrain from using mega menus.

1. They Provide An Inferior User Experience

Since we never know the dimensions of the user’s viewport, it is always a challenge to create responsive mega menu design. This is even more so with mega menus whose width and height are very difficult to control. Mega menus do not scroll and, in certain circumstances, users will not be able to access the content in the menu.

Which brings me to the next point. Content in the menu? Mega menus dramatically veer off the path of what the purpose of the menu is which is to let the user change pages. It is not to distract or confuse the user with an overload of choices on where to go next. Many believe the idea of creating a mega menu is to replace the (now abandoned) idea of a site map – as in, “Here user. We have a big site and our information architecture is confusing. You figure out where to go.”

What’s more, the mega menu will always obscure information on the page. This is something I prefer to see avoided.

2. They Are Difficult To Design, Produce, And Maintain

I did a very thorough search to find the best mega menu plugin for your organization last year. I vetted several plugins as best I could before recommending Max Mega Menu Pro.

As we have seen, creating the content for the menus is cumbersome but not impossible. I showed you this in a Zoom about six weeks ago. The content is assembled using widgets. The widgets contain navigation menus which are made using the default method of creating any menu in WordPress.

But I am more concerned with the design tools that come with the plugin. They are confusing and certainly difficult to work with. What’s more, if custom CSS were needed – and it almost certainly would be – finding the HTML elements to which the CSS would attach is virtually impossible because of how the mega menu operates.

Once the mega menu is set up, making changes to content might not be that difficult. However, altering design – which will become necessary over time – will be very hard and time consuming.

Bottom line: As with any web UI, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Recall the long-gone days when frames were widely used or countless links appeared on every page. Both of those practices are no longer seen.

There are countless articles on this subject where you will find support of every conceivable opinion.  Here are two. The first article refers to Jakob Nielsen and Jared Spool, both well-known and highly acclaimed thought leaders in the field of usable design. I take insight from their work and consider myself to be a disciple of their teachings.

If you are going to ever use a mega menu, please don’t even think about it for mobile devices. You are much better off with the traditional hamburger drop-down menu.

As they say, “Other than that, I have no opinion.”

But what do you think? Leave your comment below.

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