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I have a desktop app with a horizontal menu. Now the number of options is getting too numerous, so users with standard screen resolutions would soon face horizontal scrolling.

But the menu options are so differentiated that it makes no sense grouping them to drop-down lists.

How should this be handled?

Is it ok to make it liquid, and let it go to 2 rows where necessary?

Vertical navigation is not an option at this point, so I'm trying to find the next best thing.

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When you say this is a desktop application, do you mean a typical Windows application with the menu of File, Edit, Help... etc? – JonW Apr 13 '12 at 7:40
Are you sure you can't find any sort of taxonomy for these operations/actions? If there really aren't any it sounds very unconventional. – AndroidHustle Apr 13 '12 at 8:29
up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's highly unlikely that there really is no way to group the actions. It could be done by entity, by type of action, by work processes or by any other parameter. Maybe it's difficult to group them in a way that would allow drop-down lists, because the titles of the groups wouldn't be descriptive enough, but that's not the only option. You can turn the menu into a toolbar and group the items visually without the need to name the groups. Two-level toolbars aren't uncommon and that's a much better solution than a two-level standard menu. You can also try making a ribbon, but that does require a good taxonomy.

Also, there are solutions like fish-eye menus, designed specifically to save space on long menus. They are usually used with images, but text versions also exist.

Finally, if you're absolutely convinced that there's no way to group the items, then wrapping the names of the actions, so that each action becomes a two-row button, is still preferable to a two-row menu.

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I would emphasize that a two-row toolbar set should not be liquid even if you group menus arbitrarily onto the toolbars. With regular use, users remember where menus are, so you want the menus to remain in a consistent location with window resize so users can find a target menu easily. A ribbon (menus on tabs) works best if the users remain with one set of menus (a tab) for multiple commands, so look at menu usage patterns to see if it’s a viable alternative. – Michael Zuschlag Apr 13 '12 at 11:34

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