Mobile Navigation Menu Examples

Are you planning to launch a mobile app for your start-up? Then watch out! Gartner conducted a survey of the mobile app market in 2014 and reported that only a tiny proportion, just 0.01%, of mobile apps will be financially successful. Read more about this analysis in this Gartner press release from 2014.

However, the good news is that you can ensure that you are part of the 0.01%!

There are multiple causes behind mobile apps not being successful. Most of the time failure is down to companies not seeing the big picture, for e.g. there are far too many similar apps, including free versions, already in the marketplace. There are also execution-type issues, such as ineffective monetization strategies that play a big part too.

However, and this is important to remember, app design and development issues play an enormous part in whether or not an app is successful. If an app isn’t user-friendly, the chances of failure are extremely high! Read more about the reasons why mobile apps fail, in “9,999 in 10,000 Mobile Apps Will Fail: Here‘s Why”.

Mobile navigation is key to creating a highly usable app. In this article, I will describe some mobile navigation menu examples. However, let‘s first understand what we mean by a good example of a user-friendly navigation menu.


What features should a good mobile menu have?
Design pattern #1: Hamburger menu
Design pattern #2: Tab bar
Mobile navigation design pattern #3: The “Priority +” menu
Mobile menu design #4: Floating Action Button
Mobile menu design #5: Full-screen navigation
Mobile menu design #6: Gesture-based navigation

What features should a good mobile menu have?

When you are competing with potentially thousands of apps for the attention of users, getting noticed is not easy. Don‘t forget that quite a few may well be free apps too, something which will make your job even tougher. Keeping focus on user needs should always be your top priority. This is the golden rule and forms the foundation of success.

A good mobile menu design should meet the following criteria:

  1. It should be simple. To achieve this, you need to prioritize your content. Put the action buttons that users are most likely to want right at the forefront.
  2. Visibility should be good and convenient so that your users don’t need to struggle to find/remember the action buttons they regularly require. They should just be able to see them easily on the mobile menu.
  3. Clarity. Your mobile menu should make it very clear to users exactly how it is to be used. The golden rule here is to keep menus simple.
  4. Consistency. Your menu should be in the same location for all pages so that users won‘t need to look around to find it.
  5. For certain apps, smartphone users use their thumbs to undertake actions on the screen. So, in these cases, buttons that are within an easy reach for the thumb will get higher priority. eep your important ’call to action‘ (CTA) buttons within thumbs reach. Read more about the importance of this point in “The Golden Rules Of Bottom Navigation Design”.
  6. You need to set your touch target to 9 mm square or greater, due to the ease of use it provides. Keep in mind that in order to accommodate people with disabilities, you can offer an option to increase the size of key buttons.
  7. Consider using a tab bar for most important features. A good example is how Facebook one with their app for the news feed.
  8. Some mobile screens are small. Therefore, in some cases, users will need to scroll to see more options. While most apps cater to the more common larger screens, try to minimize the need for users to scroll.
  9. Remember to use universally recognized icons and layouts as much as possible.

Read more about these criteria in “Tips, advice and tools to create, run and grow your mobile apps. Get insights and improve your apps.” Let‘s now review some good mobile navigation menu designs.

Design pattern #1: Hamburger menu

The Hamburger menu is one of the most common mobile navigation patterns. Since users often delete apps after only using them once, it is vital that an app convey its‘ most important features clearly, otherwise users wont see its true value.

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A big reason for this problem is the lack of space on a mobile screen. As I have already touched on, it‘s hard to fit much information on a mobile screen. The Hamburger menu hides features behind primary action buttons, this lets you cram in far more actions/features than you would otherwise.

So, if you have one killer primary feature, which everything else is secondary too, then this mobile navigation pattern is good for you as it allows you to put that upfront. This way, when users access your app, their focus will be that on your primary feature.

After they have become familiar with the feature, they will need to click that hamburger menu at the far end of the screen to access other actions. For e.g., Uber wants you to first locate a cab. This is its primary function. Payment and other functionalities come later and so are secondary. Once users have located a cab with the primary function, they can then click the Hamburger menu to make the subsequent or secondary actions. Read more about it in “Basic Patterns For Mobile Navigation: Pros And Cons”.

Pros and cons of the Hamburger menu

The main advantage of this menu system is that it frees up screen space. The other important advantage is the large number of navigation options it allows for. This means that users will not have to struggle with crowded menus that offer lots of choices at once. It‘s also a very well-known menu pattern, hence most users have some degree of familiarity with it.

However, there are also disadvantages with the Hamburger menu. Firstly, most features are hidden behind the primary menu so users can’t see them up front. This reduces visibility and requires users to take more time to get to know your apps real potential.

Another disadvantage of this menu system is that it is more complex. Users often can‘t clearly understand where they are in the apps menu system. As a result, they must click the Hamburger icon to find where they are. Being an icon that is located at top of the screen, the Hamburger button is also hard to reach with the thumb.

Yet another disadvantage of the Hamburger pattern is that it conflicts with iOS navigational buttons. It fits well with Android phones, however, gets in the way of the iOS back button, which is also located at the top left corner of the screen. This means that iOS users must either make both smaller or opt to only use one of them. Read more about these disadvantages in “The Ultimate Guide to the Hamburger Menu and Its Alternatives”.

Design pattern #2: Tab bar

Will you have several equally important actions in your app? If you will, then you will have already identified one crucial limitation with the Hamburger menu. Such a menu system will hide everything behind a drawer and will only show your primary action function on the screen. In such a situation, it is best to opt for a Tab bar menu design that is designed to address this situation.

Tab bars are usually placed at the bottom of the screen, with each important action being placed side-by-side within the menu. Since all these actions can be regarded as being equally important, your users should be able to access them from anywhere in the app. This is the problem that a Tab bar solves. A typical tab bar menu is persistent, i.e. it always remains in sight. The iOS Medium app is an example of such a menu system.

Pros and cons of the tab bar menu

A tab bar menu offers the following advantages:

  • You have a viable menu at all times, unlike the Hamburger menu. Read more about this advantage in “3 Good Reasons Why You Might Want to Remove that Hamburger Menu from Your Product”.
  • Users can clearly access to menu at all times.
  • Typical tab bar menus include recognizable icons. Even though the tab bar at the bottom of the screen is narrow, use of such icons helps to fit in important actions that are essential to app function. Just imagine trying to use your mobile phone with no back button to understand why this is so important.
  • Labels or colors can be used in the tab bar as easy tools to let users know where they are.
  • Tab bar menus are located in the ‘thumb operation zone’, hence users can reach it easily even when they are holding the mobile with one hand.

There are also disadvantages of the tab bar menu, for e.g.:

  • If you have more than 5 actions of equal importance, then you can‘t fit them all in the tab bar.
  • You need to use the tab bar menu in child view, otherwise, your design will confuse users. Read more about it in “Tab Bars are the new Hamburger Menus”.
  • iOS and Android have different locations and options for tab bars. You need to factor in these differences while designing the app. This complicates your development process.
  • Sometimes universally recognizable icons are hard to find for certain actions/functions. Remember, unless you use easily recognized icons, you run the risk that users won’t be able to make sense of your tab bar menu.

Mobile navigation design pattern #3: The “Priority +” menu

As you no doubt have noticed, popular news magazines or technology media websites all have mobile apps. You can also imagine the sheer amount of content they have, hence, they find limited mobile screen size a tremendous challenge. However, the good news is that they always have priority items, like breaking news etc. to place upfront.

In this case, a tab bar isn‘t suitable, because the app’s priorities are different. Also, since such apps want to show a larger menu the Hamburger menu doesn‘t work either.

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In such a case, the “Priority +” menu addresses these requirements perfectly. Here, the main content is categorized clearly within the menu, while lower priority content is hidden under a “More” button that is located at the bottom of the menu. The Guardian newspaper is one example of a company that uses this mobile app navigation design.

Pros and cons of the “Priority +” menu

This menu design offers the following advantages:

  • It uses the limited mobile screen space for prioritized content. Read about it in “A Brief Overview On Responsive Navigation Patterns”.
  • If the screen space increases, more of the priority content can be displayed.
  • It is an adaptive design, i.e., scaling it for different screen sizes is easy.

The main disadvantage with this menu system is that you must prioritize certain actions. Since different users have different priorities, you will need to tailor your app menu to suit the majority rather than the minority.

Mobile menu design #4: Floating Action Button

Let‘s assume you have one essential use focus to your app. Naturally, you would expect your users to make this action most of the time, therefore, you it must be prominent. In such a case, the floating action button could be the best mobile menu design option for your needs.

Android users are quite familiar with this menu system since Android uses the material design system. I explained earlier the distinct features of the Android material design, if you wish to read more then read “How to Convert an Android App to iOS?”.

This system appears as a floating circle above the intended action. It will change colors when you focus on it and lift when you select it. Music apps often use this approach for their play button. Should you choose to go this route, then remember to only use one such button per screen as you shouldn‘t have too many important actions per screen.

Advantages and disadvantages of ’Floating Action Button‘

There are several advantages of this design approach, for e.g.:

  • The button is very prominent, hence, it effectively directs users to the most important action.
  • It takes very little screen space.
  • Most designers use aesthetically pleasing colors, which produces a positive emotion in the users‘ mind.
  • It‘s easier to use than traditional action buttons.

However, there are also a few disadvantages:

  • Being so prominent on account of their color and design, these buttons can distract users from app content.
  • Floating action buttons can only accommodate icons and no text labels. Finding a universally recognizable icon is hard, therefore, in some cases, the button can confuse users.

Read more about floating action buttons in “Floating Action Button in UX Design”.

Mobile menu design #5: Full-screen navigation

Suppose you have task-based or direction-based app, your focus will naturally be to creating a precise direction to guide users to content. Full-screen navigation is an excellent option in such cases. In this design approach, the entire screen is used for navigational purposes.

The full screen is used to display all the different actions the user can take. Once users make up their mind and initiate an action, the next page is used to fully focus on the content required. Read more about it in “22 Concepts and Live Examples of Full screen Navigation Menus”.

A good example of this is the HelloMind app, which helps users with meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness. The advantage of this approach is the razor-like focus it uses to help users make up their minds. No additional content or menu options distract them while they are still deciding which of the most suitable options to choose from.

The disadvantage of this menu system is that you can’t display any content on the first screen, because your navigation menu takes up the entire space.

Mobile menu design #6: Gesture-based navigation

With the mass-adoption of touch-screen mobiles, understanding the best hand movements to operate such devices became important for mobile designers. Nowadays the success of a mobile app often depends on how well it utilizes gestures like tap, double-tap, swipe, etc.

Tinder is a good example of an app that uses gesture-based navigation. Tinder popularized the swipe select and made it a huge part of its product. Read “How To Build a Dating App Like Tinder?” if you need to build a similar app.

This approach has many advantages, for e.g.:

  • The design depends on understanding gestures, consequently, you can free up screen space for content.
  • Your UI will feel more natural since most people around the world use the same gestures for a range of other apps.

However, there are also advantages, for e.g.:

  • This makes your navigation menu invisible, hence, some users could find it hard to use.
  • While some gestures are natural for certain actions, many others are not. If you create an app that makes users learn unnatural gestures, there will be a resistance to adoption.

Read more about it in “To Use Or Not To Use: Touch Gesture Controls For Mobile Interfaces”.

I have explained several mobile menu examples. They all represent examples of the best approaches, however, it‘s the requirements of your app that ultimately will define which one you use.

You need to think thoroughly about your user to establish the best approach. To start, conduct a market survey about how they use your type of app and look at other existing apps on the market. Decide your approach based upon solid research. If in doubt, consider getting professional advice.

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Aran Davies

Blockchain Expert | Developer | Writer | Photographer
Aran Davies

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