I am building a website which has a horizontal navigation in the header. Only some of the top level menu items sub-pages, so there are only drop downs on a few of the navigation options. I didn't think this was an issue, but one of our devs suggested we needed to have consistency - either drop downs on EVERY option, or on NONE of them (in which case you would embed the sub nav in the left column once you are within the parent page.

While I don't mind the developer's second suggestion, I chose the the drop downs when applicable for two reasons - 1. It gets the user where they want to go in the fewest amount of clicks, and 2. It lets the viewer see the sub pages while still hovering, to know if the information they want will even be within the chosen section. I also think it's unnecessary to add dropdowns to every item, whether there is a need or not.

I'd love to hear a few other opinions on this.

2 Answers 2


Consistency for the sake of consistency alone is ... silly. The navigation should match the content available, not conform to some arbitrary rules. People are well enough aware of how drop-down menus work at this point.

If there is an arrow pointing down next to a navigation label, users will expect sub-menus. No arrows, no sub-menus. If there is a concern that users might be confused between menus with and without sub-menus, use arrows to clarify the difference.

  • The consistency argument certainly has a point if you don't indicate that some are drop downs though. If 90% of options aren't drop downs I might never even realize that some options were drop downs and ignore them entirely.
    – Zelda
    Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 11:58
  • Nadine - I agree with you. it's about 2/7 that are drop downs, an arrow could help. One of the other issues is that the navigation parent is clickable, along with its children being clickable. I wonder if I have an arrow, if users will realize the parent navigational item is also a link (FYI - this is a wordpress template we are customizing)
    – Samantha
    Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 14:08
  • Further, if the options available in the drop-down are also presented on the subsequent landing page, then it doesn't matter if a user doesn't realise that some top level choices have a drop menu. Those that do get the benefit, those that don't don't suffer.
    – Erics
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 1:11

Nadine is exactly right. Simple 'v' down arrow indicating there is more behind the label is enough to communicate menu has additional items. Make sure you include a overstate for all nav items so it's clear those without additional items are still clickable.

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