The hidden navigation, or ‘hamburger’ – an app developer’s friend or foe?

Lærke Lyhne


28. December 2022

Are you familiar with the burger menu? No, not the one from your local takeout place – we’re talking about the one you sometimes find in apps.


The burger menu got its name because the most standard version of it resembles the layers of a classic hamburger – but it comes in different designs.

Put simply, the hamburger navigation hides away your menu items under a clickable icon in the top corner. It saw its heyday on websites when large, clunky sites started to become outdated and simpler designs came into vogue, making ‘hidden’ navigation behind a single button a sensible option.

In-app navigation is a different matter, though, as apps often have simpler and more targeted functionalities than websites. As such, the burger menu is rarely recommended as the primary navigation in an app, as it can seem too complex and  ‘hidden’ for the user.

So what’s the exception when designing apps? When is the burger menu a good idea?

In apps such as Uber and Google Maps, where the search field and the map are the primary interaction points in navigating the app, the burger menu can work really well. In these examples, the other navigation elements, such as settings and contact details, are secondary to the core functionality of the app, which justifies their placement in a hidden burger menu. In fact, getting the secondary navigation elements out of the way frees up valuable screen space for other purposes, such as displaying a larger section of a map.

Once the menu is activated, however, the entire screen can be used, providing maximum space to unfold and organise a relatively large number of navigation options in a small space.

For the sake of user-friendliness, are there other ways to create space?

You could say that the hamburger icon removes context, in the sense that users don’t know where in the app they are unless they click on the icon. It involves an additional action on part of the user every time they navigate their way around the app, as they always have to tap twice to make it to their destination.

With this in mind, you should only ever use the hamburger menu if the contents of the menu isn’t crucial to the app’s core functionality. The contents of a hamburger menu, then, should be limited to secondary functionalities offered by the app, such as editing of contact details and app settings.

Hidden navigation doesn’t boost user-friendliness – and for that same reason, you should also consider whether you might be able to leave out some navigation elements entirely. Is it necessary to unfold all menu items, or would it be possible to reduce the menu to include fewer items?

When we design an app, navigation design is one of our most important tasks. Like with good signage, it should ideally work in such a way that you don’t have to think about it when using the app – you should just seamlessly get from your starting point to your end goal. But designing navigation is a lot like making a map of unknown yet crucially important territory. Which route is the best? What needs will the user encounter in getting from A to B, and then moving on to C?

A lot of signage, or navigation, is not always the best solution.