A hamburger for everyone, please

A hamburger for everyone, please

By September 19, 2014 Thoughts No Comments

Early last year, I was clocked doing 72 miles per hour in a 60 zone not far from my house.

A few days later, when the penalty notice arrived through my door, it was accompanied by an invitation to a driver’s awareness course, rewarded by the quashing of the three points all set to blot my clean record.

In life there are sometimes very tough decisions to be made. This really wasn’t one of those times, so off I went and enrolled.

On the morning of the course I began to feel uneasy, as the thought of four solid hours of road safety pontification nurtured increasingly more terrifying comparisons with eternity in limbo. It was a day of clammy hands, blank stares and little productivity.

But with three points to protect, when the time came, I put on my best impression of a willing man, and took my place alongside a dozen or so others in the parolee line.

Upon release many hours later, I needed a timeout to fathom what had just happened. For having genuinely enjoyed the experience, it was perhaps the most unexpected u-turn of my life.

The skilled delivery of the leather-wearing, Impreza-driving presenter helped tremendously. As did a structure obviously evolved from past mistakes, and now centred on participant interactivity.

But most of all, I found the concept of driver awareness fascinating. In Northern Ireland alone, there are 1.5m of us who place absolute trust that everyone else who shares our roads, also follows our code.

Now we don’t all follow the exact letter of the law every time. The majority of the inmates didn’t actually know the speed limits on dual carriageways, fewer again understood the relationship between speed limits and braking distances, while an exercise in which we hand drew road signs led to some quite comical results, in particular for the unusually vague “National Speed Limits Apply” sign. Perhaps evidence of the very reason for our gathering, but my inkling was that the spread of demographic – from young ladies in suits, to retired gentlemen in tracksuits – was representative of society, and not of a shared misdemeanour.

After all, each of us could easily draw the sign for a 60mph limit.

Since that day, I’ve had a troubling with the digital industry  – not the kind that results in lengthy blank stares, but a troubling all the same – and in particular with user interface design.

Our industry is now replete with UX gurus and UI specialists: people whose roles are vested in making the rest of our lives easier, by simplifying the processes and steps involved in reaching our digital goals.

But too many of these talented folks are determined to change things for the sake of change, and while I fully understand any designer’s quest for perfection, in some instances there is much to be said for concentrating on delivery rather than concept.

One such instance that galls me in particular, surrounds the criticism of the “hamburger” icon (the 3 line bar that would normally open a slide-down or pull-out menu), for which there are now hundreds of UI community articles questioning, condemning and even wishing death upon its existence. Such as this one.

Yet these observers almost always miss the simple point: there is an absolute need to optimise screen space, and more often than not, a most elegant way of doing this is to present navigational channels through a user-controlled toggle.

And from the industry’s initial learning journey in mobile navigation design, the hamburger icon emerged strongest.

There is an old adage in marketing that while you can take away the middleman, you cannot take away the role of the middleman. And as a role for concealed navigation will always exist, isn’t it about time we all stopped tinkering with the middleman?

If your user research keeps telling you that some people don’t understand what a hamburger does, let’s get this straight, replacing that icon with something more customised isn’t actually going to help your users.

For although the National Speed Limit Apply sign will always be vague and the Men at Work sign will always resemble a person struggling with an umbrella – and as such, could be improved conceptually – their uniform placement means everyone on the road has no excuse for not understanding the message contained within. Which, surely, cannot be an unrealistic goal for digital design either.


At MINUS40 we put a lot of thought into design, where it matters. If you would like to work with an agency with a refreshingly well-informed take on how to do digital better, get in touch.