We have changed our navigation and switched to a mega-dropdown-menus. Now we had some discussion how to arrange/sort the subcategories inside the dropdown layer.

One opinion is that the user is searching for some kind of structure in the links and therefore the order has to be alphabetical to help the user to find his way to the content.

The other opinion is we have to sort the categories by the most wanted or by the most seasonal relevance so the user would have quick access to the relevant categories without searching the layer.

Should we choose a combination of both? Should we cluster categories by topic, put most-wanted clusters first, and sort the links inside the clusters alphabetically?


To echo Bruno, relevance sounds like the best way to subdivide options, but they should be listed alphabetically within sub-cat as you've suggested.

'Seasonal relevance' sounds a bit complex. Does that mean the order will change with the seasons? If so, I'd advise against it as sub-cats will jump about throughout the year making them much harder to find.

  • 1
    I agree. Chunking them into catagories, organised alphabetically is the best way to go. Plus by grouping into catagories it stops it being a big long unbroken list, so it will be easier to read and scan over.
    – JonW
    Jul 13 '10 at 10:44
  • Seems to be the best variation to me, too. We have some klick-thought data that will make the decisions easier.
    – Volker Wycisk
    Jul 15 '10 at 7:22

Before everything, now that you're having issues, is it really fit to use a mega-dropdown menu (whatever you exactly mean by that)? If you can give more information, we can assess this.

Considering that the mega-dropdown menu is fit, to give a tailor fit answer for this situation, we'll have to know

  • the number of links that you are to sort
  • if categories can actually be group logically (or if it's just a forced idea)
  • if people know the names of the categories (arranging them alphabetically would only make sense if people knew the names
  • if you are promoting some categories over others (based on business or whatever reasons)
  • and if you can reliably sort the link according to relevance

EDIT: With the information from the comments below, I would recommend categorizing based on clothing type (jeans/shirts/etc.). The order of clothing type and their subcategories could be affected by business considerations (like more people buy a certain type of clothing in this website, or the business owner wants to push a type of clothing). There can also be a category like "Most Popular" or "Recommended" that comes before categories of clothing types. If there's no data that would affect the order of categories and subcategories, sorting them in alphabetical order is recommended. You can refer to the mega-dropdown on http://www.microsoft.com/en/us/default.aspx

  • By mega-drop i mean the same as Nielsen is talking about here: useit.com/alertbox/mega-dropdown-menus.html It's for an online fashion store and we have all the clothing categories in the drop-down menu. The womens shop will have about 18 links. You could group jeans, trousers and skirts, or t-shirts an sweat-shirts for example - that's what we were thinking about. In some kind it would make sense to order the navigation links by season - nobody is looking for a bikini in winter but many want to buy a coat.
    – Volker Wycisk
    Jul 13 '10 at 11:12
  • How about putting the clothing categories on the main navigation instead of just one mega-dropdown? This way, the user can see all types of available clothes at first glance. It will also make your dropdown less complicated. If the top navigation wouldn't be too crowded, this would be ideal.
    – Allan Caeg
    Jul 14 '10 at 5:30
  • Putting it all in the main navigation would make this definitely too crowded. By now our main navigation features: women, men, brands, fashion magazine and outlet.
    – Volker Wycisk
    Jul 14 '10 at 8:00
  • I edited my post based on the additional information. I hope, this helps :)
    – Allan Caeg
    Jul 15 '10 at 2:31

I'm thinking that ordering links by their relative interest seems like the way to go. Alphabetical ordering can work really well, but only if the user knows what she's searching for. When exploring a menu, users probably don't yet know what they're looking for (they might not even be able to put it into words).

If you order links by relevancy, though, you're doing the user a much better service by helping her find what they want (or even stuff she doesn't know she wanted in the first place!).

  • Relevancy at a large fashion store doesn't work for me. Relevant to the "average user"? I don't think it would have any true meaning, for a wide variety of products with a large user base, there are a lot of users who wouldn't see a pattern in the menus that would be anything but frustrating. Just my opinion here, no back up data...
    – Susan R
    Jul 13 '10 at 22:34

I tend to agree with Rob and Bruno, but I would feel more confident if I could run a card sorting test to define the categories and their relative priority. You can even do a remote card sorting if you're short on time, but in any case I'm sure it will pay off.

If you have it, click-trough data is also a very useful resource to make a decision about the order of the categories and topics.

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