I trying to design a horisontal menu that sometimes will go three levels down. The thing that drive me crazy is to know if I should show all the levels.

For example:

About us, Products, Contact

  • Product category 1, Product category 2, Product category 3

    • Sub category 1, Sub category 2, Sub category 3

      • Selected Product page

On Apple.com, IBM.com or GE.com they usually skip the second level. And from a design point of view it looks good but unless there isn't a breadcrumb menu somewhere there is no way to know where you are in the structure.

How do you generally deal with the connection between global and local navigation?

2 Answers 2


By "unfancy multi-level horizontal menu" I hope you mean something like example one primary and secondary in tabs

not example two horrible flyout menus.

There's nothing wrong with putting primary and secondary in the nav and jumping the user to the product landing page for further drill-down.

Ikea ( http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/ ) does a pretty good job of displaying all their products several different ways -- old skool index page (all products), by category and sub-category and even by function or interest area. Although why their primary nav doesn't highlight to indicate position is beyond me.

  • Yes, that is a correct interpretation of "unfancy multi-level horizontal menu" :) Apr 3, 2012 at 20:23

Generally, I only show how deep the navigation goes once a user makes a decision (i.e., clicks a link). If they click a global navigation link, it takes them to that section and they might see a local navigation for that section. If they click a local navigation link, they'll be taken to that page and then they'll see the local-local navigation for that sub-section. And so on.

I like this approach because it lightens the cognitive load on the user. They don't have to scan through all the levels of navigation at once; they get it as they move deeper.

However, using what Jakob Nielson calls "Mega Drop Down Menus" are a solid alternative (assuming they are designed properly). These show all the levels in a navigation in a big 'ole drop down.

Here's an example: http://prototype.php.net/

But there are some possible pitfalls using mega drop down menus.

  • Yes mega menus is a neat way to handle it. But in this case I'm forced to use a unfancy multi level horisontal menu. Apr 3, 2012 at 16:03

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