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Im looking at building a website WITHOUT the hamburger. However due to strict requirements we currently have 9 categories plus a large logo.

There are 3 main categories, 3 of medium use and 3 with very little use but must be available.

There is enough room for 6 categories with some breathing room, but would the first 3 be better than showing 6? Either way, we would have to have a "more" drop down.

But from a UX point of view, do 6 options promote browsing more than 3? or does the cleanliness of 3 options make people enjoy the site more?

Has anyone else had this problem or found any stats on this?

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I think you should look at the need rather than the number. The number is often not very relevant. Yes 20 nav links looks crazy however it's generally a symptom of poor information architecture. If you do in fact need 20 links and they are all clearly differentiated from each other and well grouped, it can work. Your question of "do 6 options promote browsing more than 3" is hard to answer without really knowing what the categories are.

Navigation is first and foremost an information architecture exercise and not a visual design issue. To promote browsing, the categories need to be labeled well to entice a user to click through and also labeled clearly enough for them to understand what to expect. If you feel the additional 3 items are important for people not to miss, then exposing them will probably be important. Either way, the "More" dropdown needs to be made apparent so that users don't miss those items. In terms of UX, it's generally a better idea to show something rather than hide it. You just need to balance it off with how overwhelming or not it might feel for them.

GUUUI had a really good article about this but apparently their domain has been suspended (eep!). I found this poorly formatted version that you might want to read http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2004JulSep/0381.html

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There are some general rules and you might know:

  • The magical number seven, plus or minus two (George Miller, 1956)
  • People only remember four items at once (Baddeley 1986 and Cowan 2001)
  • Same with 3, 9, 16 and more...

But those are about remember something. What we need is how much options should be available.

The answer is: the less the higher the chance is the an option is chosen. But this is only true unknown items. If the user searches for something specific more well-structured options are better, because the user can immediately see what he wants.

In your special case it's hard to decide as you only provide abstract information. I would test it with the users what fits best in this situation.

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    These are rules I used to use but have since stopped using after reading this: uxmyths.com/post/931925744/… It makes a lot of sense since these are rules for memorization and when you're creating a navigation, you are by no means asking a user to memorize the items in the navigation. – skwokz Jan 9 '15 at 16:16
  • You are right. I updated it to make the difference clearer. – Gustav Jan 9 '15 at 16:51
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WHY? (always a good question to ask)

Fist, the immediate issue, for me, is: Why not use a 'hamburger' or icon for saving space on small screens? Is it not needed? Is this personal preference? If it is the later then personal preference should not be the reason for design decisions. The issue may actually be a project (or expectation) management flaw. As a designer it is your duty to advocate for the user.

Instead of looking at the 'website' as a set of 'options' or features. Approach your design problem from the user's perspective.

Ask and answer these questions:

  • What devices and screen sizes are most prevalent?
  • What (physical) settings will they be using the system? Home? Office? Commute?
  • Are there icons the user would understand/learn that could be useful in saving space?
  • Are there comparable systems the user is familiar that you can learn (aka borrow) design?
  • What if the number of links changes in the future (it usually does)?
  • What if the text-size changes or it is translated to a different language?
  • Are there other navigation patterns that might work better? Why, why not? Try them out, get feedback.

Then ask yourself:

  • "What can I take out?" ("Not what should I add?")

Cross check

IMPORTANT: The rationale

When users complain about your site being cumbersome or not matching what they had in mind you will be able to justify your design decisions with a good approach rather than saying "I only did what you asked me to", which is pretty weak.

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