In 2017, more websites will be reducing their primary navigation options.

But why, and who has done this already?

As Michael Sandstrom has previously pointed out on the Econsultancy blog, it's all about defeating the tyranny of choice.

Michael advocates reducing choice paralysis by choosing relatable products categories, perhaps fewer in number, to encourage a smooth transition through the site.

We highlighted this trend in our 2017 web design trends, and did find a few dissenting voices in the comments, some of which suggested that 'hiding' an important category within a more generic one is counterintuitive.

In reality, any change to primary navigation options will be carefully monitored to see if it has the desired affect on customer conversion.

Here are four websites that have reduced their header menu options in a recent redesign. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

IKEA

This was Michael's original example. The old website header includes some rooms, some product categories (such as textiles), as well as an 'all departments' tab to catch the undecided.

ikea

As you can see from the screenshot below, the Ikea redesign features only four options, as opposed to the original 10.

The main three are the generic 'products', 'rooms' and 'ideas' (perhaps perfect for the dilettante browser). Each has an alphabetical dropdown.

ikea new header

Oasis

Oasis relaunched its website in 2016 and we covered some of the interesting UX bits on the Econsultancy blog.

Below you can see the old top navigation. It's not extensive by any means, with six options and a range of categories within 'clothing'.

oasis old header

However, Oasis has now pared this back in the new design, with four choices available.

'Shop' is the main option, and the dropdown here looks not unlike the old header, featuring 'clothing', 'accessories', 'footwear' and 'collections'.

This is more towards a mega menu, and is arguably more visually salient than the old version.

oasis new header

English National Opera

We covered the English National Opera's redesign back in March 2016.

The two GIFs below give a good idea of how much the ENO stripped back from its navigation.

Whilst much of this redesign was arguably bringing an old fashioned, desktop-oriented site up to date, there are some features introduced aimed at reducing visitor paralysis.

Look at the cleverly minimised and greyed links for 'about' and 'news', designed so as not to deflect attention away from buying tickets.

Old

eno old website

New

eno old website

ASDA

Lastly, we're going back to 2015. This Asda header was understandably pretty beefy, given the range of products and services the retailer offers.

Dropdown menus were included with some popular categories listed.

asda old website

Asda's 2015 redesign is shown below. It's incredibly simple and quickly funnels the user to 'Groceries', 'Clothing', 'Home' or 'Money', without offering any dropdowns.

asda new website

What do you think?

To me, these reduced menus offer focus as well as a touch of serendipity (in the case of Ikea's 'Ideas' button).

Reduced navigation works for mobile and it keeps the user steadily moving forward.

Have you had experience testing your primary navigation options? Let us know below.

Ben Davis

Published 10 January, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (11)

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Graham Charlton, Editor-in-Chief at SaleCycle

Hi Ben,

Interesting post, it almost seems to be a return to the mega-menu in the cases of Oasis and IKEA, as the initial categories or 'shop' options open up a sizeable list of product categories.

Anything which reduces choice paralysis should help conversion and this should work well if the reduced navigation options are driven by data.

I think it's equally important to have effective options for narrowing product selection according to needs (price range, colour, product type etc) - I've been struggling to find a floating shelf via the nav options.

5 months ago

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Rick Package, CMO at Package, Inc of Roselle

It's all about how your audience looks for things.

I think the examples listed here got it right. Definitely less chance of confusion/dead ends - IMO.

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Graham Hi mate. Yeah, would be interesting to know if the change leads to more use of internal search for certain product types.

5 months ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

We did this very thing on our recent website redesign, following some Eyequant heat mapping on how users were scanning our navigation options.

However, instead of hiding less-used menu items we split them out into a secondary nav (giving the site some hierarchy). It's early days (we launched the site in December) but so far our analytics are looking very positive!

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks, Joe. Your site is a fascinating example. Check it out here, readers > https://www.charlesrussellspeechlys.com/en/

5 months ago

Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns, Digital BI/ Account Manager at Eli LillyEnterprise

Interesting, this is almost the opposite of the Hamburger menu article that was discussed a last week. With some app designers deciding to move across to a tabbed experience, exposing more of the menu options rather than hiding them inside the menu.

Either way, it seems like large images and/or tiles are becoming more popular vs multiple menu options.

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Joseph I think it's more of a middle ground between the burger and the old desktop header menu. Context is really important. But I agree that big ol' tiles make mobile easier in many cases.

5 months ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Insight at Jack Wills

Some nice examples Ben. The interesting thing with a lot of them for me is it's about removing initial choice paralysis by encouraging people to engage with a wider selection instead of a product category.

Take IKEA as an example and previously, where would you find shelves or drawers - they could be in any of bedroom, kitchen, storage of bathroom whereas providing a wider range of more logical categories makes it much easier for the customer to choose.

It's an interesting one as it's a discussion we've had in the Travel Industry over the years as people would much rather search for regions (Canary Islands or Florida) than a specific destination so why not facilitate that and make the customer's live easier...

5 months ago

Christopher Myhill

Christopher Myhill, Director, User Experience at Golin

Really nice article, Ben. Great examples - this is one web design trend that I can really get behind.

I think another factor that may be encouraging site owners to slim down their primary navigation choices is mobile-first thinking.

Having fewer, shorter options allows for some much more effective presentations of the navigation bar at mobile.

Traditionally the 12-or-so navigation items would just collapse into a hamburger menu at mobile. If we have a leaner set of options though (say 4 or 5), we can come up with much better presentations. We could do something with icons, for example. Or just show our navigation directly.

This has been on my mind a lot recently, so I posted a big old rant about it >
http://justuxdesign.com/blog/my-beef-with-the-hamburger-menu

Hopefully this is a trend that other sites will follow in 2017!

5 months ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ben,
Thanks for sharing. Good to see one of the main supermarket brands trying to simplify its high level navigation on desktop. Asda's previous version gave me a headache.
I think the key point here is UX and understanding how to help users make decisions. The harder it is to know where to start your journey, the greater the frustration and typically lower click rate.
By consolidating the menu into behaviours rather than traditional catalogue structures (e.g. "I want to shop" vs. "Menswear") you help channel people based on intent and they don't need an implicit understanding of your IA to know where to go.
Once the behavioural intent is known, you can surface the most relevant content (links, images, banners, promotions etc.) and also start to personalise/customise the content to support business needs.
It will be interesting to see if respected ecommerce sites like AO.com simplify their menu . Amazon certainly did last year, the top menu is much cleaner.
thanks
james

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@James. Thanks mate. Good point about Amazon. As regards AO.com, would be interesting to know where the majority of their sales go (fridges and washing machines?) - perhaps they'd be reluctant to demote them from the menu. I think where number of product categories are small, it's a difficult thing to get right.

5 months ago

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