We're in the middle of a redesign of our client portal, and there's been some discussion about whether to pursue a multi-level tab design or a dropdown menu (used on the current version of the application).
Having read through questions like Elegant, simple and obvious sub-tabs?, and articles like Why hover menus do users more harm than good, I find myself wondering whether there is any real usability data either way.
To illustrate what I'm talking about, here is the pending design for the new navigation method:
and here is the current design:
From my perspective, the proposed new design has as a primary advantage the ability for the user to see and navigate to other subsections without necessarily having to open a menu. It's also more attractive (to me at least).
The disadvantage is that I have the hover navigation problem described in that article I cited. I could deal with that through either:
- A jQuery delay on the hover (used on E*Trade and QuickBooks online), or
- Requiring that the user click the tab to either display the sub-tabs or navigate to the main section page upon clicking the tab. The former risks losing the benefits of the default display being a "you are here" depiction. The latter may cause delays since a user will have to visit the main section's primary page before being able to navigate to the desired sub-page.
Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of performing user testing, and even if I did the preference would probably be skewed in favor of dropdowns more because of the distaste for change than real usability. Our user base pretty much has to use the system, so I don't have to worry about losing traffic if the change is initially uncomfortable. I'd rather go for ease of use and simple aesthetics.