The Argument Against Dropdowns

May 21, 2018

Dropdowns, common sites in menus across the web, can help an individual, company, or organization present all of their web content to their users immediately.  Do you want to know about the history of our company?  How about meeting our staff?  View our products!  Here, let me list out some categories for you….

While dropdowns can create a one-stop shop, they can leave your users fatigued and overwhelmed.  Here are the reasons why you should say no to dropdowns:

1. Decision Fatigue

You give your user all the pages, products, and information in one spot.  What could go wrong?

The issue: too many decisions lead to people being worse at making decisions.  As reported by the New York Times, studies show that when you give customers more choices, they tire more quickly, then simply settle for the default or recommended option.  After an extensive decision process, customers also reported they enjoyed the overall experience less.

Too many decisions can also lead to your users to give up more quickly.  In a study done by Jean Twenge, now a professor at San Diego State University, participates were given one of two shopping experiences.  One group was asked to choose between two items or item types at a time until reaching a decision.  The other group was able to contemplate and give their opinions on items, but not make decisions.

Following their shopping experience, participants were tested for self-control by holding their hand a ice water.  The group, who had to make more decisions gave up twice as quickly as the other group.

Now, you might be thinking, but my dropdown is only making the user decide once.  Isn’t that a good thing?

Each dropdown is a decision.  Do I want “Reports”?  No?  How about “Products”.  Nah, let’s look under “About”.

While a drop-down may mean a neater look for your website, it will result in users enjoying your website less and leaving more quickly.

2. ADA Compliance/Usability Issues

CMS menus aren’t often built with the necessary components to create an accessible menu.  Often times, when a user is using a screen reader to navigate your site, the dropdowns are inaccessible to the screen reader.  Your site’s menus have to be customized to get the same functionality for all types of users.

These same concerns can apply to users with visual impairment or low mobility.  Dropdown menus functionality is dependant on specific user actions.  If the user has a tremor or has trouble navigating the cursor, this will make the dropdown functionality very difficult.  Even as an able-bodied user, I often find myself frustrated trying to use dropdowns that require skilled cursor navigation.  Menus should not make you work that hard.

Make your menu an easy experience for your users.  Give them broad categories that will cover most users needs.  Create landing pages for these categories. Have your pages link to each other.  When you think creatively, you will soon discover that you can create an immersive, enjoyable web experience for your users without the need of any drop downs.


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