As a good working example: The standard convention is for mega menus to appear on hover (see sites such as play.com and next.co.uk).

This fits with Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience which states that:

"Users spend most of their time on other websites." which means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

However there are other websites that break this convention, such as Starbucks.com which opens the menu on Click instead of Hover. Presumably this is because they are going with a responsive website and have opted to provide the same user experience to visitors on a desktop machine to those with tablets.

Should you break established conventions and user-expectations in order for your site to be consistent across devices?

To quote Jakob Nielsen:

The more users' expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users' expectations, the more they will feel insecure.

Note: this question isn't about whether hover is or isn't better than click because we have several useful questions on this already. I'm more concerned with the idea of breaking convention for internal website consistency across devices.

  • 1
    +1 an interesting query. there sure is a discrepancy in websites depending on the type client viewing it. A site that works very well for desktop can be close to unusable in a hand held device, regarding megamenus among other aspects. Commented May 4, 2012 at 11:47
  • One of my thoughts is that just because a site is consistent across all devices, someone who only ever looks at it on a desktop isn't going to care that it works on a tablet. But then is this a problem?
    – JonW
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 11:56
  • I would say that the problem appears as a user with experience from a site on one device finds it to be very different (read bad) on another device. This is where the problem resides in my meaning. Commented May 4, 2012 at 12:22

3 Answers 3


I believe that on occasions it is all too easy (lazy even) to follow the convention of others and thereby produce an experience which, by it's very nature of being similar to others, is neither unique nor remarkable.

Technology changes, and with changing technology, people's behaviour changes too. Without this we would all have identical experiences across websites.

I think we should break convention every now and then, particularly if there's a good business decision behind it, and of course, if user feedback and well executed testing shows it not to be a bad decision.

I think aiming for some sort of consistent experience across devices is an ok reason to break convention.

I congratulate those who defy convention and innovate to still provide a great user experience.

It is those who break conventions for no good reason; that do not align with the business goals; that do not seek the user research and feedback; that do not design on data driven evidence; and that create a confusing experience as a result, that do the damage.


The goal in designing any artifact is to make the design as useful and satisfying as possible. If you find out that you beaked a convention or two along the way is subordinate to the ultimate goal of usefulness and satisfaction. The goal can never be to break the convention in itself.

Consistency is key but that is within the domain of the particular artifact and the surrounding environment. As an example one application on Android shouldn’t have the same user interface and behavior as on Windows Phone, iPad or desktop PC.

Spotify on Android and Windows Phone

Spotify Android Spotify Windows Phone

Both applications accomplish the same task, but have different use input. Windows Phone uses swipes left/right to navigate between different views, which would not be understood by android users. Breaking convention in this case is bad. Branding however is a different thing.

Microsoft Word for Mac

Word for Mac splash screen

The same goes for applications originally designed for Windows which is then ported to Macintosh. Can you ever imagin a Mac user trying to understand a Windows application working like the Windows version? I don't think so. Microsoft have meda a good work getting Microsoft Word for Mac behave like a true Macintosh application. I use both versions (Windows and Mac) and have no problem switching between the two.

Click vs. Hover menu items

In your example to use click or hover to view navigation items, I think you can use both techniques side by side. Implementing the behavior where on click is the same as on hover and you support both desktop and tablet behavior without breaking convention.


Don't break conventions trying to make your app behave the same on different devices. Follow the design guidelines, style and behavior of the software environment your developing for.


Should you break established conventions and user-expectations in order for your site to be consistent across devices?

The only time I could envision this being a GOOD thing is if your end-users, for some weird reason, are always using multiple devices to access the tool. But I can't think of too many cases where that'd be useful.

This is a common problem, by the way.

For instance, I'm now on a team building a mobile web app. The functionality is based on an existing (desktop) web app. All-to-often the UX team want to implement an interaction "to be consistent with the web app" when it makes absolutely no sense in the context of a mobile device.

Another example is cross-browser rendering. This has been an issue for more than a decade where testing teams or management insist that the web site look and behave exactly the same across browsers--even though I can't think of many non-UX/dev type users that EVER have two different browsers open at once.

  • 1
    The cross-browser rendering thing does my head in. Constantly I have to explain that some browsers are very different and just can't do what you want me to make them do, given the budget. As long as it works and is usable, it really doesn't matter. Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 16:20

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