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The navigation I am currently wireframing for has close to seven sub menu items for each main menu and I was wondering if there is an optimal limit for the number of sub menu items

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This is a good report that has some good answers to this. Basically, your navigation should be as large as need be. The key is to make sure people at least feel like they're getting where they thin they want to go. – DA01 Nov 23 '11 at 19:45
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The right number to enable efficient navigation. Which isn't a lot of help, I know, but there is not a completely fixed answer. Sometimes, a large sublist will work, if the user can find what they need easily (if it is alphabetical, and there is a clear reason for many items). Sometimes, the lists need to be smaller, because the user needs to make decisions at each stage, and smaller lists tend to make for easier decision making.

So I would suggest looking at what the users are trying to do, rather than starting from an approach of menu size.

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I would have to agree with this since there are times when the magical number of 7 just doesnt fit the bill.There are sites where there is a ton of content and users come there only because its a one point source and having multiple menu items would help users get to their content faster as opposed to going through a series of steps – Mervin Johnsingh Nov 30 '11 at 4:04

Traditionally, common wisdom used to hold that any list should always contain between five and nine items (seven plus or minus two), because humans find it hard to remember more than seven items at a time. However, that only really applies if the user actually has to remember all the items in the first place - and that only counts if the user can't make their choice without comparing the other options. For many situations, a long list of intuitively ordered items will trump an arbitrarily divided, needlessly deep tree structure.

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Yes, as you state, that 'old wives tale' really has no bearing on menu design. – DA01 Nov 23 '11 at 19:45
The Seven +- 2 rule is quite a decent starting point IMHO, even though the theory is mostly about working memory and not about UI's and menu's :D. This number can be increased by tricks like making longer alphabetical lists (as Jimmy mentioned), making subgroups and chunks, visual tricks, etc. – Jeroen Nov 23 '11 at 22:22
It's as valid of a starting point as any random number would be. It really has no bearing on visual menus. – DA01 Nov 23 '11 at 23:06
@Jeroen: Yes, those are all good ways to increase the 'workable size' of a list or group. Of course, the method of ordering has to be intuitive and have relevance to the situation, and it has to be workable from the user's current knowledge position. There's no use alphabetizing a list if your users don't actually know what the keywords will be, nor is there any use pulling chunking criteria out of the air. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Nov 24 '11 at 9:46

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