I have been thinking a lot about site learnability lately. I remember being told that 7 items in a navigation is the most learnable for visitors. I think this has to do with human memory, and the scan-heavy nature of the web, but I am not sure.

Along with the above, I have been told important navigation items should be placed at the beginning and end of the navigation. The idea behind it being users will skim your navigation when they visit your site and only remember the first items and last items.

Are there any resources to back these ideas up, or are these just industry standard/ best practices?

1 Answer 1


The idea of keeping lists of items to a maximum of 7 is generally a good one, but perhaps not entirely accurate. According to Susan Weinschenk, the number is actually much smaller:

Have you ever heard about the ‘magic number’ 7 plus or minus 2?–the idea that people can remember or deal with between 5 to 9 things at time? Well, that’s a myth. Research shows that the real magic number is 3 or maybe 4.

Research shows that people can only deal with about 3-4 items of information at a time. Anything more than that they are not really seeing or paying attention to. People will tell you they want more choices, but the research on decision-making is clear that too many choices means that we don’t choose at all.

As for remembering items at the beginning and end of a list, that's known in psychology as the serial position effect.

Serial position effect is the tendency of a person to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst.

  • I think these are very likely to be the sources for those heuristics, but I question how applicable they really are. The original "magic number" research had to do with working memory and the serial position research is about short-term or long-term memory. But if your categorization scheme is forcing users to hold all the menu items in memory, that's a problem in itself. Ideally they should be able to scan through the list, discarding irrelevant options right away and stopping when they reach the one they need.
    – octern
    Dec 30, 2015 at 16:44
  • 1
    There was actually a previous discussion around the optimum number of choices in menus which has some good points.
    – Matt Obee
    Dec 30, 2015 at 16:54
  • Matt, Thanks for all that great information. I had been hearing about that magic number for years, but I find, for myself, if my wife starts listing off items to get at the store, I ask her to write it down by item 3 or 4. So that really confirms my suspicion. @octern I totally agree. The problem lies in convincing a client they have too many menu items, since most people tend to want to overload the home page thinking it will improve bounce rate, but generates the opposite effect.
    – mrClean
    Dec 30, 2015 at 17:55

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