Simplifying the top menu

We did some initial user research via a survey and then about a dozen user interviews to learn more about how people are interacting with our site and what they find useful and confusing.

We discovered that the top menu is rarely used, and that people were quite confused about the difference between the “New”, “Unread” and “Latest” tabs. Most of the frequent visitors who read a lot just used the Latest tab.

In response to this, we are exploring simplifying the top menu.

In particular, what I’m thinking is going from this:

To this:

I think I can accomplish this by:

  1. Updating the site setting for the top menu and just choosing [latest, categories, unread]
  2. Adding some custom CSS to hide the categories dropdow

I figure people can still get to these other things via the hamburger menu, and to a category in 2 other ways: The categories page and. the label next to a topic. But are there any gotchas people can think of that I should be aware of with removing the categories dropdown?

One other things that I’d like to consider is hiding the Unread tab if there is nothing there. How would I go about that?
Has anyone tried anything like that?


This is the CSS I added to accomplish this:

.navigation-topics ol.category-breadcrumb {
    display: none;

.categories-list ol.category-breadcrumb {
    display: none;

When viewing a particular category, the dropdown is still visible. Otherwise, it’s hidden.

EDIT: Also, just added this to simplify the hamburger menu:

.hamburger-panel li.category-link {
    display: none;

I always wanted to have a hybrid unread+new filter that is simply called unread


In the process of going through this, I also (re?)-discovered the option to add the following tabs:

Those all seem potentially useful topic lists to be able to get to easily. But they are also things I don’t think more casual users who are mostly just browsing need to get to frequently, so I didn’t add them. That said, it may be nice to have them in the hamburger menu…

All those except read duplicate what is available on the user page already.

As for hiding stuff on top nav, I guess the categories and tags drop downs on the far left I would hide first, since they are kind of shortcuts to existing actions anyway.

@sam it is very bad to mix truly new with the things I am tracking … 90% of the time on most sites I do not care about the new topics, whereas 90% of the time I do care about my tracked unread topics. So mixing these together would be pretty painful, here is a bag of stuff you do not care much about, randomly mixed up with a bag of stuff you care a lot about. That would make it impossible to cleanly dismiss just the new topics as well.


True, though for bookmarks and “my posts”, the presentation is quite different. The tab shows a normal topic list view, whereas the user preferences page shows the post with an excerpt. At some point, maybe we’ll experiment with showing one of these tabs and seeing whether people use them. In the mean time, I can point people to the links if they find them useful enough to go to those topic list views directly.

^ Any thoughts on this idea?

Hmm, maybe. Right now they show education panels, so we’d be giving that up. But it would be simpler to not show them when there are no new or unread topics respectively, which is obviously what we do for anonymous users:

Your thoughts @erlend_sh?


Strongly depends on the site, and usage

A mix at BBS would be annoying, a mix on meta, dev and rubybench would be perfect for me.

On some sites I care about everything, and seeing one list is easier than 2. On some sites I am focused.


If you’re not ready to take this leap across the board, I would be fine with using CSS to do this if there is a class or other selector that can distinguish between the cases of having 0 vs. > 0 topics for those tabs.

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You know g b takes you to bookmarks, I use it all the time


I took a look, and I don’t see anything I can use to do this with custom CSS currently, from what I can tell.

@sam how do you feel about suppressing unread and new when there are zero of them?


Out of interest…

Did these users include absolute new users to your site?
“Top” is in my mind for those new users to aid in topic discovery and to help them gauge what the site is about, was there a specific it perhaps has less relevance for existing users.

What did your user interviews tell you about “Top” for you to want to remove it?

In general, the people we interviewed had not clicked on Top before. When prompted to explore it and talk about what they saw, they understood it was probably the more popular topics, but expressed some doubts and confusion about how they might have been chosen.

We decided that it was not providing enough value to justify taking another place on the top menu. Our current theory is that “less is more” as far as the top menu is concerned. The hope is that by removing as many things as possible will put more focus on what remains, which is currently Latest, Categories and Unread. Being able to hide Unread when there’s nothing there is still something I’m interested in.

It’s hard to say for sure that it’s been helpful, since we (unfortunately) did not have Google analytics installed beforehand. But based on those interviews I’m guessing it was still the right choice for us.

We will likely add one more item to the top menu when the “My Categories” plugin is ready to start testing.

Keep in mind though, this is an internal forum, so we don’t have to solve the problem of “I just landed here from a Google search, what is this place?”


We should revisit this in 2.0


This is in effect now @mcwumbly, great idea. Both New and Unread will be hidden if they have nothing to show you.


Can we close this as complete @mcwumbly?


yep, looks good to me!