Mobile sub-nav menus – where have you gone?

A look at recent trends in mobile navigation with an eye to design.

By Sally Dew

As a designer, I am always looking around the web for creative options and best practices in user interfaces, particularly mobile interfaces. I spend a lot of time looking at website and apps, moving between my desktop and my iPad and my iPhone to see how various problems are solved. One area of interest lately is mobile menus and navigation and I am struck at how rapidly and constantly the rules are changing. Solutions in place six months ago simply aren’t there today. A new solution has replaced it, and fast.

During our own recent website redesign project, we started with a mobile-first approach and became obsessed with different mobile navigation solutions, searching for the one we liked the best. Our content is multi-tiered and we wanted to condense down to a one-level menu on mobile. It was a good exercise to focus our message all the way down to 320 pixels and while our solution is not perfect, it works for us, at least for today.

Here are a few of the changing trends in the past six months:

  • Flatter structure – sub-navigation is disappearing on mobile menus and instead one-level menus are on the rise 
  • Sub-sections within a section – sub-sections are more integrated into the page content and offer more interaction in accessing sub-section content (i.e., swipe left or right for next and previous or hub-and-spoke organization bringing visitor back to main section to access sub-sections) 
  • Full-screen menus – while slide-out menus are still around, I see more and more full screen menus. This is usually accessed from the “hamburger” or a more accessible “menu” button. I like the simplicity this approach offers.

When it comes to mobile, change is the only constant. These trends will fade with time and by the looks of it, the cycle is short. Keeping my eye on the industry’s best and brightest in this emerging and developing field helps me design better mobile experiences for our clients. Plus, it’s fun (if you’re a graphic design geek, that is).

Sally Dew
Sally Dew – Creative Director
Sally brings complex concepts to life through intuitive interfaces and compelling visuals. She provides creative direction for all projects and ensures brands remain expressive and consistent.
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