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I'm currently facing a problem with designing an effective and user-friendly multi-level side menu for a client's ancient website developed in year 2000. This side menu is referred as a table of content for a teaching website.

Here is the screenshot of the menu:

Multi-level side menu

As you can notice, it has an old-school plus-sign expandable menu. I don't think I would implement the same thing in a moderner design. So I have 2 questions to ask in order to come to decision:

  1. Is using a cascading design a good approach, given that the level wouldn't be more than 3? What I mean is that, when a user hover over a parent item, it would list the next children items and so on. Pretty much like a drop-down navigation menu.

  2. Since the list is really long (around 200 items down the frame), what could I do to make it more easy to use, in which the users won't need to scroll the whole way down to find items.

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Leaving the issues open makes the question overly generalized and broad-scoped. What have you considered in "more modern" design? Why are currently used options inadequate? Specific issue(s)? An otherwise very good Q. –  Kris Sep 22 '12 at 6:23
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2 Answers

Is using a cascading design a good approach, given that the level wouldn't be more than 3? What I mean is that, when a user hover over a parent item, it would list the next children items and so on. Pretty much like a drop-down navigation menu.

Why not a file browser approach:

  • breadcrumbs to let you see where you're at

  • current "folder" view

  • a search box.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Since the list is really long (around 200 items down the frame), what could I do to make it more easy to use, in which the users won't need to scroll the whole way down to find items.

  • Searchbox (filtering?), as above

  • If there's a possibility of grouping those +200 items into (say) 12 or 16 "metagroups", then perhaps a page-wide tile view - with each tile representing a major chapter - for top level navigation.

mockup

download bmml source

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Assuming the underlying content architecture is correct (it's not possible to simplify the number and depth of sections) the next thing I'd question is how often a user will need to jump directly from one end to the other, or from deep in one branch to deep in another. If not likely, it might be less overwhelming if you were to display only links to other pages within the current section, much link an ecommerce store with nested category pages.

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