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7±2 Rule for Web menus

I've pretty much tried to stick to 7 item menus, mostly because a couple of books I read and personal preference.  Any longer and I start to ignore menus and use a search. 

During a meeting, a colleague pointed me to this paper:
http://www.internettg.org/newsletter/aug00/article_miller.html
Which says I'm dead wrong and doesn't really provide an easy alternative.

What has your experience been?  Has anyone tested the usability one way or the other?

Lee
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I think Millers heuristic does not fully apply to graphical environments. 

You are not really asking people to "memorize"  links or menu items unless it is memorizing shortcut keys. 

I think in such cases what is more relevant is how the information is categorized and presented. So if a book has 20 chapters it is much easier to present it as 20 links with chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3...(better with the title of each chapter) than artifically breaking it up at the 7+/- 2 rule.

If I look at the Bookmarks (or Favorites) menu of many of my friends I find many of them having more than 10/12 items....and they have no problem using them because they have categorized them properly according to their own system. I think that is what is more important...and it always seems strange to me that the print functions are under File and there is no easy way for people to pull then out...

Code Monkey
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

It comes down to user testing.  Build a version of your menus and sit some real world users in front of it and watch what they do.

If you're presenting some king of ordered list, or even an unordered list of related items that are in a context, you can probably get away with many more items than you could with a sidebar of "Home:Blog:Contact:News:Ads:My Cat..." which are relatively unrelated and relatively unordered.

Lou
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Thanks for the comments.  I'm definitely going to test a couple of variations.  The 7±2 reference was intended for a style guide.  My boss insists on unyielding, specific  language, which doesn't seem to fit here.  She was upset I put ±2.  Thanks again.

Lee
Thursday, April 22, 2004

I read some "rule" (these things are usually pretty arbitrary) that number of clicks is less important than the user feeling she knows where she is all the time & knows where they are going.

I'd guess the same rule could be applied to Web Menus. yes 30 items is harder to look through (Dreamweaver anyone?), but if I know what to expect under each category, I shouldn't be too confused.

How would you apply the 7±2 rule to, say, your Favorites/Bookmarks or Start Menu?

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, April 22, 2004

The problem with having rules such as the one you describe is that is just moves the complexity to someplace the rule doesn't cover. I don't care if the individual menus are short enough if there's a hundred of them. Where should I start to look?

This is of course one in the inherently difficult problems of user interface design. When it comes to web based interfaces, Mozilla's type-ahead-find lets me search everywhere when the site gets too complex, so don't forget to implement the old tried site map. It may be complex but I have a computer at my disposal! :)

Jonas B.
Saturday, April 24, 2004

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