Thoughts on Responsive Navigation

28 February, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about navigation in responsive designs lately, so when Brad Frost wrote Responsive Navigation Patterns a few days ago I thought I’d write down some thoughts on a couple of the methods he talks about.

Ultimately, mobile navigation should be like a good friend: there when you need them, but cool enough to give you your space.

The Select Menu

My main argument against it is that it feels awkward. I don’t think form elements should be used for navigation. We don’t use it on the desktop, why use it on mobile? But maybe it’s mostly a personal preference, I realize it solves the problem by keeping the navigation first while saving screen real estate.

One disadvantage though, is that it takes a few gestures to use. On an iPhone you first need to select it (1), scroll to the item you’re looking for (2), select it (3) and then hitting Done (4). From what I remember the interaction is the same on Android and other mobile OS.

The Toggle

I agree that this is probably the most elegant solution. At least for sites with just a few navigation item it’s probably the best solution. But if you have subnav items it quickly becomes more problematic. The problem is that I haven’t found an intuitive place for subnav items. In most cases you don’t want to show them initially when you toggle (the entire nav expanded), you could add toggles for each subnav too, but then it’s not that elegant anymore.

Once you have clicked/touched a nav item and landed on the page it isn’t obvious that you need to toggle the navigation again to find it’s subnav. And adding the subnav before the content don’t work well either since height matters and placing the sub-nav in the footer separates the topnav from subnav.

This is the method we’ve gone for in most projects and I think it works pretty well (take a look at for example). Allowing the navigation to take more space lets you design clear, large and tap friendly navigation items. You can also add toggles to each subnav without making it too complex. It also follows content first, navigation second recommended in Mobile First.

Which method do you use?