Nielsen on Menu Usability

By Deane Barker on April 29, 2008

Right-Justified Navigation Menus Impede Scannability: Jakob Nielsen, demigod that he is, has just published an interesting alert box about right-aligned menus (something we’re guilty of). He claims they reduce readability.

Aligning a navigation menu with the right margin might look cool, but the resulting ragged left margin severely reduces the speed with which users can scan the menu and select their preferred options.

The other two problems are (1) designers using all CAPS, and (2) lack of contrast between the background and letters.

What makes this interesting is that the University of Michigan read his Alertbox and realized they were guilty of all three problems, so they fixed their menu the same day, which caused Nielsen to update this column.

An examination of both screencaps is below the fold, and it’s interesting to look at — I tend to agree that the changed menu is remarkably more readable. And this is not only when actually reading it, but it just beckons to be read more. The “before” menu is something I probably would just gloss over without reading it, where I’d be much more likely to read the “after” menu.



  1. I would contend that ALL CAPS was the major offender. Designers have always loved setting in all caps because it makes the lines into predictably shaped elements. But every study on typography I have ever seen shouts that setting in all caps reduces readability. On the other hand, I have read reports (on typography, not web menus) right-aligned copy has no effect on readability. If he had included a right aligned mixed case menu, you might have been quite happy with that as well.

    (And just to be a dork, I must mention that “right-justified” is an erroneous term. To justify type is to space the characters so that both the left and right margins are straight. “Right aligned” or “flush right” would be what the demigod meant.)

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