Why the humble main menu is important to UX

A main menu is not very interesting to look at artistically-speaking, indeed it probably shouldn’t be. It is, however, a really useful set of clues for a user as to the content contained behind it.

The top-level menu labels should appear to be a set and:

  • be descriptive of all the contents it leads to (providing good “information scent”).
  • be unambiguous
  • clearly different to the others in the same menu
  • of the same level of granularity as the other menu labels

You might have heard of the rule of 7+/- 2. A lot of people cast aspersions about that number, but I think it’s still reasonably stable in terms of a rule of thumb for the recommended number of menu items.
Basically, if you have got a menu that has more than 7 menu items, it shouldn’t grow much greater than 9, because it gets too much to read through, and if it’s a lot smaller than 5, perhaps the menu is not needed or is too deep and so not well-organised.
If you have just two items, you can use something like tabs or a different UI element, depending on what your content is.
If you’re a large store and you have two categories, then 7+/-2 is perhaps not going to be such a useful ballpark figure for you to think about in regards to types of item.

Ideally, all of the top menu labels will have roughly the same number of options taking the user deeper. For example, they could all have about seven suboptions, but if one of them had three, and two of them had fifteen, it would not be well-balanced.
However, each case is different.

In summary, the top-level menu is a quick overview for a user. It’s not very snazzy, but it is really important to have a good structure and one that communicates what your site is about.

For a little more on this topic and to hear about card sorting, have a listen to my latest podcast episode.


UX tips for start-ups

My latest article for the small business and start-up community, Know your customers and how to talk to them is now available on the Enterprise Nation website.

In this post, the second of a series of four, I cover:

  1. The biggest, and probably the most common mistake, I see when people engage with their customers,
  2. Why you should look at what people do and not what people say, and last but not least;
  3. Why the user’s context is so important.

If this is something you can relate to, or you are struggling to get started, do get in touch. You can drop me a line by clicking on the envelope above, or book a time to talk here.

A simple way to start user research

I wanted people to not fear user research as being too difficult, mysterious or time-consuming and present, in a nutshell, the practical steps necessary to go from start to finish. Of course, there are more details you can add in, but the important thing is to start somewhere!

I’ve listed 6 simple steps:

  1. Define the question
  2. Find participants
  3. Organise the materials
  4. The structure of a user research interview or test
  5. Tips for running the session
  6. What to do with the information you gather

This is aimed at small teams or microbusinesses; people who are wearing many hats and are not able to recruit a specialist at this time.

My aim is that people (businesses, product owners, developers) engage with people (potential or actual customers) to gain an understanding of their needs and so better products are built!

You can listen to my podcast episode on this topic at anchor.fm/liz-parham.

The slides showing the 6 steps to setting up a simple user research session.

Show notes follow

In this very first episode of the Let’s UX Podcast I hope to help you get your user research efforts off the ground and improve your user experience just one step at a time.
This one is for you if you’ve thought about research but haven’t quite taken the first step. I will take you through 6 simple steps to get you started today.

It’s brilliant that you’re here! Getting more people involved in the process of design and development will produce better products, and everybody’s going to be so much happier, let’s face it!

So let’s get stuck in.

If it’s a bit of a mystery as to when and why you might start doing user research, I think there are three main reasons:

  • The first: understand customers better. Their lives, their language, where they would use your solution, other solutions they’ve tried… all of this information will help you make design decisions further along because you won’t be projecting your own preferences and experiences and you’ll be thinking more about real customers.
  • Another could be to test out your website or your app. Don’t really know how well it’s performing? The best way is to put it in front of people and observe them use it.
  • Another reason could be to explore new ideas, new concepts and to iterate on those ideas with them and get feedback.

And that’s the only way to really evolve and iterate on your design before it’s developed, saving money down the line by getting clear: are these good solutions? How well would they work?

Listen to this episode here at anchor.fm/liz-parham.


I love helping technology work well for people and for businesses.

I am currently creating this website, which is why it’s a little spartan right now. …And as soon as I’ve figured out why the links are red, I’ll fix it, promise!

Take a look here for links to my UX programme and more.

Meanwhile, you can find my podcast below