Mobile usage continues to grow rapidly. About 60% of website traffic now comes from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. With more web browsing happening on smaller screens, having a mobile-friendly site is critical for providing a good user experience.
Mobile navigation in particular can be challenging to implement effectively. On compact screens, navigation menus and links need to be designed differently than on desktops to be easily accessible. This post will provide tips to simplify navigation for mobile users.
Use a Hamburger Menu or Bottom Navbar for Main Navigation Links
The small screen size on mobile devices means there is limited space available for navigation menus. The traditional full-width top navigation bar used on desktop sites will not work well on mobile.
Instead, the menu needs to be designed for compact usability. There are two main options to consider: using a hamburger menu or implementing a bottom navbar.
The Hamburger Menu Consolidates Links in a Tidy Menu
The hamburger menu icon has become a ubiquitous sight on mobile sites and apps. When tapped, it expands to display a dropdown menu containing navigation links.
The hamburger menu neatly consolidates these links into a compact space instead of having them displayed permanently on the screen and helps declutter the interface. The menu can slide in from the side or drop down from the top when opened.
The hamburger menu makes the most sense for apps and sites that have extensive navigation options. It keeps the links accessible but out of the way until the user actively wants to access them.
The icon itself serves as a visual cue that more options are available. For apps with simple navigation needs, the hamburger menu may not be necessary.
Bottom Navbars Keep Links Visible and Accessible
Bottom navigation bars have also emerged as a common mobile navigation pattern. They display 3-5 important links at the bottom of the screen that remain visible at all times.
The fixed bottom placement also makes the links easy to reach with the user’s thumb.
For apps and sites where quick navigation between a few sections is critical, a bottom navbar may be preferable over a hamburger menu. Some apps will even use both, with the bottom bar providing access to core sections and the hamburger accessing secondary links. The bottom bar provides visibility and accessibility for the most vital links.
Limit Mobile Navigation Links to Reduce Clutter
While desktop sites can feature expansive navigation menus, that does not translate well to mobile. Mobile navigation works best when stripped down to only the most necessary links. Too many navigation options will clutter the interface and be difficult to display on a small screen.
Include Only Essential Links in the Main Navigation
Audit your current desktop navigation menu and pare it down to the vital links that mobile users will need. Secondary links that won’t be frequently accessed can be moved into a secondary menu. For most sites, the main navigation should focus on core pages like Home, About, Shop, Contact, etc. These essential links belong in the primary mobile navigation.
Secondary Links Can Go in a Sidebar Menu
Navigation links that are helpful but not critical can be moved into a secondary menu. This is often styled as a sidebar menu that slides in with the hamburger menu or is accessible by tapping an icon. For example, links like Company History, Investor Relations, and Career Opportunities could go in a secondary sidebar menu.
Make Tap Targets Large Enough for Fingertips
With mobile navigation relying heavily on touch instead of mouse cursors, the tap target size of links and buttons becomes very important. If targets are too small, users will have difficulty accurately tapping them with their fingertips. Follow these guidelines for proper tap target sizes:
Links Should Be at Least 48 CSS Pixels
To ensure tappability, navigation links should be at least 48 CSS pixels in height and width. This provides a large enough area for fingertips to tap without missing the target. Even larger links are beneficial when space allows. Prioritize making your most important navigation links as large as possible.
More Vertical Space Between Links Helps Too
In addition to link size, having adequate space between navigation links is also crucial. Tap targets stacked too closely vertically increases the chance of accidentally tapping the wrong one. Leaving at least 32 pixels of vertical padding between links improves usability.
Implement Ample Padding Around Links
Beyond just sizing tap targets appropriately, it’s also important to add ample padding around links. Padding helps define the tappable area and gives users breathing room to accurately tap their target.
At Least 32 Pixels of Padding is Ideal
Navigation links should have at least 32 pixels of padding on all sides. That should result in at least an 8-point padding once converted to pixels for mobile. With plenty of padding, users’ fingers have room to land without accidentally tapping other elements.
Test Tapping Accuracy
During mobile testing, pay close attention to how accurately users are able to tap your navigation links. If links are too small or lack adequate padding, users may accidentally tap incorrect items. Look for where they experience frustration and increase sizes and spacing as needed.
Use Accordion Menus to Condense Options
For navigation menus that have a lot of links or multilayered submenus, accordion menus are a useful option to condense content while retaining accessibility.
Accordions Neatly Organize Menu Content
Accordion menus allow menu content to be collapsed under headers that users tap to expand. This enables fitting a large menu into a small vertical space while keeping all options visible. Sections close when another is tapped so only one displays at a time.
They Allow Access to Extensive Navigation
Sites and apps with deep navigation hierarchical or numerous categories can benefit from implementing accordion menus. For example, ecommerce sites can organize product categories or blog sites can organize topics this way. Accordions elegantly organize complex navigation in a condensed layout.
Optimize Forms for Mobile Usage
Web forms are often a key part of user interaction. When designing forms, keep mobile usage in mind with these tips:
Use Responsive Forms That Reflow Vertically
Make your web forms responsive so they reflow and stack vertically on narrow mobile screens. Doing that will help prevent the awkward horizontal scrolling mobile users would otherwise have to do. Reflowing forms improves completion rates.
Ensure Mobile-Friendly Button Size and Spacing
The submit buttons and form taps targets also need to be sized appropriately and spaced adequately like other navigation elements. Buttons should be 48+ pixels and have at least 32 pixels of surrounding space.
Minimize Unnecessary Form Fields
To further optimize form completion on mobile, eliminate any non-essential fields if possible. The shorter your forms are, the better the experience on small screens.
Improve Page Navigation Within Mobile Apps
In addition to link and menu navigation, page navigation within mobile apps also warrants attention:
Add Floating Action Buttons For Key Pages
For important pages like shopping carts, user accounts, or content creation, consider adding a floating action button that stays fixed on the screen, enabling one-tap access to key functionality.
Implement Swipe Gestures Between Pages
When applicable, enable horizontal swiping gestures to switch between pages or sections of an app. Native horizontal swiping provides intuitive navigation between different views or content areas.
Rigorously Test Mobile Navigation
No amount of careful mobile navigation design matters if you don’t test extensively on actual mobile devices. Issues and usability problems can only be uncovered through real user testing.
Conduct Testing on Actual Smartphones and Tablets
Form factors vary, so it’s critical to test on a range of real iOS and Android mobile devices. The navigation experience could be very different on a 5.5″ phone versus a 10″ tablet. Optimize for the most important form factors.
Check That Tap Targets Function Properly
During testing focus on ease of tapping navigation elements. If users struggle to accurately select links and buttons, their size or spacing needs improvement. Watch for frustration and update spacing as needed.
Ensure Navigation Flows Logically
As users complete tasks, observe whether the navigation design makes sense or if they have issues orienting themselves. Fix confusing layouts and add visual cues if needed.
Optimizing navigation for smaller screens isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s a necessity. As we’ve explored, the key to a successful mobile navigation strategy lies in a user-centric approach. From choosing between a hamburger menu and a bottom navbar to meticulously sizing tap targets, every decision should be made with the end user in mind.
No design is ever truly perfect out of the gate. Continuous testing and iteration are crucial to refining your mobile navigation. That way, you not only enhance usability but also drive engagement, reduce bounce rates, and ultimately, boost conversions.