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When vertical navigation side bars are used in web apps they often have the ability to minimize them which reduces the width to just the icons rather than the icons and text.

Is this better than just hiding the side bar entirely? Minimized it still takes up space and in my experience unless I am using the app heavily I can't remember what each icon represents.

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Yes, it is better to have them minimised instead of hiding them or displaying them in some other way because it keeps the behaviour consistent. You always know that global options are in that menu. To improve usability, you can expand the the menu on hover and display normally so that the user does not need to remember what the icons mean.

I have come across the same problem, and I will tell you now that hiding the menu bar with a hamburger icon on the top is a very bad idea. Generally users will never even realise it among all the other stuff on the page. If it is being hidden that way, then the icon should be very prominent and visible properly.

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