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Here’s a question – why is third level of nav so complicated on a mobile if you don’t want to rely on java script?

April 7, 2020 4:52 pm
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A friend just asked me the above question and when I looked back at the overlong, rambling, answer to why web dev for a nav increasingly gets more complex I thought “this is perfect blog post material”, so here it is. Enjoy my overlong, rambling, answer.

Nav’s are the most fucking annoying part of a web build, full stop. Before you get into anything else about them. Not only that, a functioning nav is pretty much the only thing a site has to have. A third level drop down nav without js I imagine is difficult because selector access probably gets wobbly for down that low. Especially as I imagine the quickest way to do a pure css nav means using pseudo selectors. And whatever you do needs to work with, or not break, whatever happens at desktop too. Thing is, I don’t know why it’d actually be difficult, because I’d never ever be arsed to do a mega menu nav without JavaScript and I certainly ain’t writing that JS. I’m grabbing a well maintained plugin off Github.

Another more immediate thought that comes up when asked this though is, does this expose an underlying issue with the IA and site navigation?

So why the hesitation and consternation on the dev side?

It’s the fact it’s a extra level of potential fuckerage to deal with. Like I say navs are dicks. You’ve got to deal with one or two visual presentations for different types of devices at least, and it has to work cross browser, and not just cross browser current, you’ve got legacy browsers to contend with which makes a css approach difficult any way. you’ve got to populate the damn thing dynamically in the first instance which always involves getting tangled up using a walker in WordPress.

So already you can feel why devs may be “hesitant” when you account for all that. Then try to layer something else in on top, you can start to feel where the knee jerk pain is coming from. Returning to whatever nav you have and restructuring it feels like a big Jenga tower; and you just know it’s ready to collapse the second you touch it. And like I say, it’s a lot of pain for not much gain. Especially at mobile, and you’d probably get more out of taking it as a sign to reconsider the IA.

Why does a third level navigation suggest a potential issue with site navigation?

This is absolutely site dependent, but ask yourself, or better look at your Analytics, is the user really likely to be digging out nav options from the third level at mobile? There are cases where this might absolutely be appropriate, examples of sites where third level nav may be appropriate include large e-commerce, or something like an NHS informations site, where the user may want to keep digging.

Examples of where you defo don’t need it: a solicitors website, or any sort of brochure website for some company. The mobile strategy for a lot of these sites is just wrong. They key information a user on mobile wants is “does it do want I want” when in research mode and “where the fuck is it/get in touch” the rest of the time.

Obviously this is a generalisation. But for any other content, based on what I’ve observed over the years in Analytics, is that 90% of people will land on through search engine, not through navigating to it on a website and those that do land on it through the website will generally land there through in-content links, not the nav.

So is a third level ~that important~ or does it just tick a box of a page being visible and are we solving the right problem here? Would be the question I’d ask people about it. Does any learning here apply at desktop? Maybe! It depends again on what level of research the audience is likely doing, desktop users on the whole tend to dig a little deeper, but it all depends on what the user is there to see

This joint was penned by @elmarko