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I was browsing the BBC website and I noticed they are using ellipsis to indicate there are more items in the main navigation than visible. I attached two screenshots, the first one is before clicking the ellipsis icon, and the second one is after clicking the ellipsis icon.

Before clicking the ellipsis icon

After clicking the ellipsis icon

Is this behavior correct? Are ellipsis used right? Is there any research in this area?

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  • What makes you think it's wrong? It also helps with responsive web design - if you reduce the width of the browser then nav items come out of the primary bar and go into the ellipsis menu.
    – JonW
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:46

1 Answer 1

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I think it's debatable (and a very interesting question).

Even before GUI existed, there were indications when the system awaited a user action. These could be a blinking cursor, a square, a Y/N choice, or an ellipsis.

With the advent of GUI, these user expectations translated into the menus we see today. As most old commands shifted to menus, a best practice emerged: menu items expecting a user action would display an ellipsis. See this Wikipedia entry for further detail.

To illustrate this, consider the images below:

Pre GUI

enter image description here

Old UNIX screen with blinking square

enter image description here

Old UNIX screen with ellipsis

GUI menus

enter image description here

Old Windows Start menu

enter image description here

Old MacOS menu (By Self-made software screenshot, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23639135)

enter image description here

My current Firefox menu

enter image description here

My current Photoshop menu

As you might notice, commands leading to subsequent actions often show an ellipsis. Conversely, if a command completes with the selection, it lacks an ellipsis.

Why do I mention this? Because technically, the BBC page is incorrect. There's no action; the three dots could be merely decorative or a glitch.

But...

The BBC has a reputable UX team, likely having tested this extensively. So, while "in theory" it's incorrect, if it works for users, it's right, it's the basis of User Centered Design (UCD). A few years ago, hamburger and kebab menus were considered design heresies. Now, they're among the most common and recognized UI patterns.

Personally, I'd have used a kebab or an arrow, or group menu items differently. Then again, I didn't test it and I'm pretty sure they did.

In short: No, it's not technically correct. But whether it's wrong can only be determined through testing.

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    Thank you for taking the time to answer, it's a very detailed and useful explanation.
    – dgr
    Dec 19, 2023 at 12:48

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