If we have a large content environment on a mobile device, we need some way to access that content with ease. One could implement a narrow and deep navigation pattern which gives the possibility for larger navigation elements to be presented to the user. There will be less errors clicking through content, but there will be more clicks to perform to access the content we’re after.

If we implement the opposite style, where we have a broad and shallow navigation pattern, there will be less click to perform, but there will be harder to find what to click, especially if the navigation elements need to be scrolled through.

‘narrow and deep’ or ‘broad and shallow’ navigation pattern

Image from the book: "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites" by Morville and Rosenfelt

Which of these two patterns would work the best on a mobile device?

  • When you say 'Mobile' is this mobile-only, or is it a responsive site that will be accessible on a mobile?
    – JonW
    Dec 20, 2012 at 12:09
  • @JonW That is correct. Mobile only as web app or native app. Dec 20, 2012 at 12:12
  • 1
    I use of little graphic of a tall thin man and a short fat man when discussing this issue to lighten things up a bit...
    – PhillipW
    Dec 20, 2012 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


The answer, as always to questions of this nature is the (rather useless) 'It Depends'.

Flat Navigation

The argument could be made that, because it is a mobile site this means that navigation is going to be intrinsicly harder, and therefore a more shallow navigation structure is preferable because that makes it harder for the user to get lost in the site structure - they would only be one or two steps away from wherever they need to go. However, the counter to this is that if you have a flat navigation then that makes the top-level navigation very link-heavy as you need to link to everything from the front-page. A navigation structure that includes numerous pages isn't pratical to display on a mobile screen.

Deep Navigation

The alternative to a shallow navigation is to have a very deep one, deeper than you would get on a 'desktop' site. This way you can have very specific and brief content occupying single pages, so there is less noise when the user reaches the desired content page. Each page would be concise and particularly relevant to the purpose. However the obvious counter to this is that it's going to take much more time to navigate and browse to these pages if you're using the in-site navigation (and not just hitting the page directly from a search result / shared link).


Just to come at your question in a different way altogether; why assume that you need to make a choice between one or the other? A navigation structure assumes that the user is going to need to navigate around the site. In this day and age, is that really true?

In the same way that the music industry has changed from forcing people to buy a whole album just to listen to the tracks they want to, to a more flexible 'buy the individual tracks you want and nothing else' so too the web is changing. People don't just navigate to content from within the website, they navigate to content by clicking shared links that are suggested on their social-media pages, or from links mentioned in other websites altogether.

When the user is on the page in your site, why require them to have to revert to traditional navigation methods to browse around? That's probably not how they arrived at the site. Why not take a different approach -

  • set up tags against your content so the user can browse to other related pages.
  • Include some 'you may be interested in...' suggestions within your page so they can go off and find other information of note on your site that way.
  • Heck, even suggest pages on other peoples sites instead! Don't pretend that your site is the only place people can get information. Give your site added-value by becoming not just a source of good information, but a source of other sources as well so you can start to become a trusted voice. That's far more valuable than just being 'an easy site to navigate around'.

The web is growing, don't just assume navigation is something that needs to be a choice between two options that have always been around.

  • +1 For the reasonong om Neither. Didn't cross my mind really. Dec 20, 2012 at 11:49
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    For more on the reasoning behind "neither", read the excellent Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger. Dec 20, 2012 at 14:26
  • @AlexFeinman Thanks, I'll be sure to check that out myself.
    – JonW
    Dec 20, 2012 at 14:32

Adding to the information shared by others.

This research data might help you to understand and decide

Serial position effect

when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few words and are more likely to forget those in the middle of the list, i.e. the serial position effect.

Words early on in the list were put into long term memory (primacy effect) because the person has time to rehearse the word, and words from the end went into short term memory (recency effect).

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