Menus: Guidelines & Organization

Guidelines: Best Practices for Menus

4-7 Top-Level Items

Menus are meant to help users find things easily, they look through a list of items and click the one closest to what they are looking for. The catch is that the average person can only hold 4-7 items in their short-term memory, so your menu should be the same size. If your menu has more than 7 top-level items, users will forget what their options are by time they reach the end, which leaves them feeling frustrated and annoyed. Keeping your menus simple will keep your users happy.

Simplify Menu Titles

Avoid long titles for menu items. Users are scanning your menus for key-terms, so give them what they’re looking for. For instance you may have a page titled, “Spring 2017 Web Team Meeting Schedule,” but a better menu label might be “Web Team Meetings” or “Web Team Schedule.”

More Small Menus is Better than Less Big Menus

If you have a section of pages that are related and take up a huge section of your menu, consider moving them to their own menu, with a link at the top to get back to your homepage.
comparison of single menu to multiple menus

Use Hierarchy to Show Relationships

If pages have parent-child relationships, use them to structure your menu. You can “nest” a child item inside a parent item by dragging it to the right. This helps users understand how your site is structured.

Guidelines for Menu Organization

Sidebar Menus

Sidebar menus should have no more than 6-8 top-level items. The sidebar can support up to 100 items, but it is not recommended having more than 50 items total. If you find a section of your menu growing too large, consider making it its own menu.

If sidebar menus are large, they must be organized alphabetically. If they are small, either alphabetical or ordered by importance is fine.


Non-Academic Departments

Non-Academic Department menus require less structure than the Academic menus. However they should be organized in a way that makes sense for users. The UMAC office’s website has a great example of a top-menu. A general formula for a good menu is:

  • About
  • Services/What We Do
  • Resources
  • FAQ
  • Contact

Academic Departments

Top Menus for academic departments should be organized as follows, required items are in bold.

  • Department Name(in left corner, generated by the “Site Title”)
  • Faculty(may also be labeled as “Faculty & Staff” or “Faculty/Staff”)
    • Faculty
    • Staff
    • Adjuncts
  • Degree Info(this section should contain all your resources and documents related to degrees, courses, majors & minors)
    • Degrees(or “Degrees & Certificates”)
    • Degree Worksheets
    • Courses Offered
    • Scholarships
    • Syllabi
    • Research Opportunities
  • Resources(this section should contain additional resources provided by your department for students and Faculty/Staff)
    • Tutoring
    • Library
    • Campus Maps
    • FAQs
    • Career Opportunities
  • College Name
    • every other department in college

Quick Links Menus

Quick Link Menus are designed to help people find things quickly. They should contain no more than 5 links and be organized either alphabetically or by importance to users (what they use most often).

Resource Menus

Resource Menus should be organized alphabetically. If containing more than 10 items, consider grouping items to make your menu easier to read.