Good Option for Lots of Navigation Options: Mega Drop-Downs

I have been working with several Balance Interactive clients lately that have a lot of website content. A question from one client has had me paying special attention to the issue of menus – what is the right number of options? how many items are too many in a drop down menu?

My initial research showed that menus groupings, like other content groupings, should be limited to about seven items:  seven main menu choices, seven options per menu.

However, Jakob Nielsen just reported on usability testing for the mega drop-down menu. The results suggest this is an effective approach for serving up a lot of content options. Mega drop-downs even overcome the downsides of regular drop-downs.

Mega drop-downs have the following characteristics:

  • Big, two-dimensional panels divided into groups of navigation options
  • Navigation choices structured through layout, typography, and (sometimes) icons
  • Everything visible at once — no scrolling
  • Vertical or horizontal form factors when activated from top navigation bars; when activated from left-hand navigation, they might appear as mega fly-outs

For an example of a mega drop-down, see  foodnetwork.com,