Do not always fear the nav bar on narrow screens
You should display your whole navigation menu on narrow screens if possible. While hamburger toggle buttons and their ilk solve a problem neatly, the best navigation menu is visible by default.
When we design websites for small screens navigation can cause a problem. If we use a long, vertical list of navigation links we risk them taking up most or even all of the screen. If we go horizontal, the menu can extend beyond its right edge. For example, this is what The Telegraph’s screen looks like if you narrow your browser window:
There are lots of ways to tackle this problem. The most common is to toggle the navigation list by pressing a button – you’ve probably seen some variation of this hundreds of times:
I’m not interested here in the rights and wrongs of hamburger menus. But I think it is worth remembering two things about website navigation on narrow screens.
Firstly, we’d rather not use hamburger icons at all. The simplest, most accessible navigation menu is… a list of links. I’ve spoken to several Suffolk Libraries website users who simply have no idea what pressing the icon does, or that it’s even some sort of toggle button. Although it’s inventive and reasonably whizzy, the hamburger and its ilk create a tension between competing user problems: the awkwardness of scrolling horizontally and the findability of the navigation menu.
Secondly, screen real estate is valuable on a mobile but visible navigation menus make a site more usable. Again, there’s a tension between making content difficult to reach by displaying a long navigation menu on a narrow screen and hiding it behind a button click.
I’d suggest we err a little too much toward hiding the navigation menu. If your navigation menu consists of 6 or more links then you probably need to use a hamburger or something, but there are ways to display shorter menus on a narrow screen.
At the time of writing, I’m not hiding my navigation menu behind a toggle button on narrow screens. Instead, I’m displaying all four links in rows of two:
On a widescreen you get a traditional horizontal menu:
Most blog navigation menus consist of a handful of links which could comfortably fit on a narrow screen. Yet you see a surprising number of hamburger menus in the blog world – perhaps bloggers could experiment with visible menus a little more.