Why Spotify Getting Rid of the Hamburger Menu Is a Win for UX


It's a good day to be alive. Spotify has finally fixed the most annoying thing about their app: they've replaced the "hamburger menu" with a tab bar. For good in-app user experience, users needs to know all of the following at all times:

  • where they are,
  • where they can go, and
  • how they get there.

You can start to see now why the hamburger menu is controversial in the world of UI/UX. Here are just two more issues the feature poses, and how the tab bar approach remedies each one:

1: The hamburger menu makes other pages less discoverable.

Problem: At any given time, the user is always one tap away from finding out what other pages the app has that the user can discover.

Solution: With the tab bar, the user sees the app's main pages at all times. In addition, icon and text helpers make it easier for the user to find what they're looking for.

2: The hamburger menu makes the app's mental model less intuitive.

Problem: Having the hamburger menu in place leaves the user dependent on it. While this may sound like an easy-to-learn path, in reality, it only pushes the problem deeper and introduces unnecessary complexity. Here’s why: anytime a user wants to switch to a different page, they have to tap the burger menu, which is an extra step. The position of the menu is a hurdle to the user experience as it sits on the top corner of the screen and is relatively hard to reach. Even after tapping on the button, the user still needs to select from a list of pages. The problem here is that it’s difficult to memorize the spatial position of the elements on the list.

Solution: Right off the bat, the user does not need to tap any buttons to see the full menu list. The buttons are always present for the user whenever they may need them. Secondly, the buttons are in reach of the user’s fingers. No more finger gymnastics just to go from ‘home’ to ‘browse’. Lastly (and most importantly) the mental model of the app is clearer and much easier for users to understand and learn. The average person can keep track of 7 ± 2 items at a time. That makes 5 the largest number most people can track.

Proponents of the hamburger menu usually argue one or more of the following:

  1. It’s clean and easy. As I’ve argued, it really isn’t. The hamburger menu looks clean, but in reality, it just hides the mess one layer deeper.
  2. If the hamburger menu isn't any good, why are major apps like Spotify using it? Well, guess what? They're not anymore!