What’s the Hamburger for?

Are Icons a New Thing?

Hardly. Ancient Egyptians used them to communicate all the time!

However, since 2014 icons have grown in popularity, in website design.

So, is this an innovation or fad? In other words, do icons improve usability?

If they don’t add clarity, i.e. no-one knows what the icon means, it serves no purpose.

Skeuomorphism adds Meaning

Icons emailSkeuomorphism is a long established design technique. To communicate meaning, take something comfortably familiar, to represent something new and alien.

For instance, I designed this letter icon to represent email.

Adoption of More Abstract Icons

locationOn the other hand, abstract icons are harder to understand, so less likely to become adopted.

In late 2013, I did some direct user-testing, to see if people knew what this icon meant. The location pin, indicating a map link, was still reasonably unfamiliar. Only due to it’s adoption by GoogleMaps and other high profile sites, was it’s meaning learnt and understood.

2014’s Major New Abstract Icon

Originally called the navicon, this icon started being used in 2014, when more websites became optimised for phones.

For opening navigation menus, it was renamed ‘the sandwich’, before becoming known as ‘the hamburger’.

Missing the Signpost

hamburger_BM_Berlin_465233pResearch at the time, by James Foster of web publishing company, Exis, showed recognition of the hamburger with website visitors was relatively slow.

This posed a major problem, with visitors ignoring this icon and all content beyond the site’s home page. Bounce rates went sky high!

James Foster’s study of 240,000 unique visitors, replaced an unlabelled ‘hamburger’ icon with the word ‘MENU’. This increased menu link click throughs by 20%. Read more >

menu-iconFor slow adoption, hybrids quickens navigation for those familiar with the icon, whilst the label aids those not yet up to speed.

NOTE: Hamburgers hide signposts, so only use on phones! They make no sense on desktop views or tablets.

2017-08-12T14:35:01+00:00 Mar 26, 2014|Digital Affordance, Fad or Innovation?|