iQ Blog / we write about design and business (and sometimes we make puns)

What’s on the hamburger menu?


A Hamburger

An interesting tweet by Luke W, a leading thinker in mobile interaction, made me think a little bit more about something we often take for granted – the hamburger icon.

Just as the floppy disk has come to signify save, and the trashcan has come to signify delete, the hamburger icon has been established, at least in the minds of designers and savvy users, as the icon for off-canvas mobile menues.

Hamburger menuComputer interfaces have changed dramatically over the past thirty years, but the humble icon has remained; and with good reason. Users have been shown to comprehend shapes and forms easier than equivalent sentences and perhaps more importantly, with regards responsive design, icons have been used in interfaces where space is at an absolute premium.

While a picture may speak a thousand words, when it comes to icons research shows that ones that actually look like the actions they are supposed to signify are the most usable. Better yet are icons that are accompanied by text.

But on a mobile screen we rarely have the luxury of supporting graphic elements with text. So with our hands tied, I wanted to see how well the hamburger icon is understood.

To do this I conducted a quick user test last week to see how users interacted with the hamburger icon on responsive layouts.

The Guardian's mobile navigation

The Guardian's mobile navigation

The burger on the grill

Using both The Guardian and The Irish Times homepages as my examples, I asked participants to navigate to the Life & Style sections of both websites on the mobile device they were most comfortable using. Some 12 users participated, and I evenly divided them between both websites. All had owned a smartphone for at least six months, and typically browsed the web for at least 15 minutes a week.

The Guardian

Out of six participants, only two clicked directly on the Guardian’s hamburger icon. Two participants searched, while one user scrolled down the page to the Life & Style section stub.

The final participant was particularly interesting, first clicking on the flag icon and then on the hamburger icon. When asked why he had pressed the flag first and the hamburger second, he said that he didn’t know which icon indicated menu, but that one of the icons in the top right hand corner did. This participant’s actions would appear to confirm other research that suggests that it is the location, more than the icon itself, that users remember.

The Irish Times

The Irish Times mobile navigation

The Irish Times mobile navigation

The Irish Times fared slightly better. Four of our testers pressed the hamburger icon that had a label. One participant scrolled, while one clicked on the dropdown underneath the hamburger icon. However, three of the four participants also said they would have clicked the icon without the word menu. As there was only one button they were reasonably sure that it would lead to some sort of navigation action.

It seems that participants were more comfortable interacting with the hamburger icon on interfaces where there were few other clickable elements. The text label played its part, but so did the singular navigation option.

On an interface such as The Guardian’s where there were a number of unlabelled clickable icons, some of which were open to interpretation, such as the flag icon, the hamburger fared poorly. While it was apparent that it was an actionable icon, the absence of any text labels meant the user was unsure what it actually did. It’s worth noting that The Guardian has since streamlined its mobile nav.

Demographics also played their part. Only one user from the 50+ demographic clicked on the hamburger icon, compared to three users from the 18-30 category, suggesting a lack of familiarity amongst older users with the icon. Those who searched (one from the 30-50 category and one from 50+) appeared comfortable with the interaction and recognised the magnifying glass as a search icon.

Users who scrolled down the page to find the Life & Style section were both in the 18-30 demographic. Both seemed familiar with the layout of a mobile news site, with the latest news content at the top and thematic sections underneath. What is interesting is that users chose to navigate through the content rather than interact with top-level navigation. Interacting with a menu or search function was not part of their user journey.

Garnishing the burger

There are some good reasons why text labels are frequently forsaken. Quite often there is simply not enough screen real estate to support a text label; this is all too apparent on The Guardian’s site. And, to be pragmatic, the cost of localisation may also be prohibitive.

But Microsoft has shown that text labels were central to redesigning the Outlook toolbar, ensuring that those of all skill levels were able to use it. Basecamp also went for clarity over cleverness when they redesigned Basecamp in 2012. Ditching their multiple navigation tabs they settled on a single, text only navigation structure.

Basecamp redesign

Basecamp redesign

While the hamburger may not be as cryptic as some of those contained in Outlook’s original toolbar, there is a lot to be said for removing uncertainty from users’ minds. We should be designing to help quick decision making. Proper labelling can provide a clear information scent, lessening the distance of comprehension between icon and user.

If the word ‘menu’ were totally off the cards, another suggestion would be to educate users. Pocket outlines the hamburger icon as a part of its navigation in the onboarding process. Similarly, Buckle takes an educational approach, calling attention to the icon for first time users.

Buckle mobile navigation

Buckle mobile navigation

Borders around the hamburger icon can also help define it as a clickable object. These have performed very well in A/B tests when compared to their borderless counterparts or even plain text ’menu’ labels. Calling your hamburger out as a button seems to help users understand its use, even if its function remains a mystery to novice and first-time users.

The context pickle

Icons are not fixed entities, but malleable representational objects whose meaning shifts from context to context. While the hamburger might mean ‘menu’ on the homepage to one person, it could mean ‘requests’ or ‘settings’ on a dashboard to another.

Users do not arrive to a site intent on clicking an icon. It is only when context and visual representation align that an action occurs. Understanding what the user is trying to accomplish is central in establishing the success or failure of the hamburger in an interface.

While we can standardise icons, we cannot standardise our user’s responses to them.  And as there’s no right or wrong response, it is essential that we determine these contexts and test our icons such as the hamburger within them, establishing what works best for our particular interface.

Relishing responsive

As the smartphone and tablet markets enter a more mature stage, we should be aiming to design with sense of simplicity and inclusivity that allows absolutely everyone to interact with our interfaces. We should aim to make our interactions as simple and natural as possible; and icons play a massive part in this. The smaller the leap of comprehension needed to connect icon and meaning the better.

For it’s easy to lose sight of the essence of responsive design – to support users in accessing the same content and complete the same tasks – regardless of whether they’re on a desktop, mobile or tablet. The hamburger icon is a tool that can help do this, if we apply it properly.

Learning to fail the successful way


There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only those with unexpected outcomes

A smart man learns from his mistakes, a truly wise man learns from the mistakes of others. With this in mind, iQ Labs; our team of inventors, hackers, designers, and builders; paid the Fail Better exhibition in Dublin’s Science Gallery a visit last week.

Trinity’s Fail Better exhibition draws attention to the complex relationship we have with failure. While failure has been embraced by much of the entrepreneurial community there is, especially in Europe, still a stigma attached with not succeeding. Quoting the words of Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” the exhibit tries to show that failure is not to be feared, but overcome.



Failure enables us to learn from our mistakes, and when viewed as another step rather than an end, it can give rise to quiet determination; that little voice in your head that whispers ‘tomorrow I will do better’.

Failure can build character; it forces us to approach the future with humility yet with an added motivation to overcome past mistakes. People who are truly passionate and who believe in themselves, and in their creative ideas, will view their failures as milestones to their success. Failure is part of the human experience – to embrace failure is to acknowledge our fallibility, but likewise our capabilities, and the possibilities that are open to us.

So, what’s our conclusion?

As Louise C puts it “the most interesting part for me is the psychological effect of failure – a person’s reaction to perceived failure and the distress it can cause. This is something we must always keep in mind during design. We need to support users and provide feedback where we can so they don’t reach an error or failed state, therefore avoiding any distressing experiences.”

Robert says, “never give up. Try again. The reasons for failure are manifold – eliminate one after the other and improve with every try. The biggest motivational aspect of the exhibition was the mind-shift in thinking about failure – how can there be failure when all there is ‘learning what to do better next time’.”

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to Ela, “it made me think what a failure really is. Can we say that we failed if we tried our best, put our heart and soul into something but we didn’t succeed? Perhaps we already succeeded by taking an action and trying? I don’t have an answer but the exhibition made me think about it. It is an open-ended question if failure is really the opposite of success; in some instances the opposite may be endurance?”

Piers says, “the incubator made from spare car parts, NeoNurture, was the most interesting failure to me. The technology itself worked, but it failed for social reasons, doctors and nurses just didn’t want to use it.”

The Daddyo of them all – bringing our new app for dads to new heights

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Daddyo - new app for new dads from iQ Content

What does it take to get to the top spot of an iTunes’ store chart? The answer, it seems, is a few late nights, a bit of worry, and a lot of hard work. And with a few new parents in the office, we’re used to late nights, lots of worry, and plenty of hard work.

So, we’re as proud as new parents to announce that Daddyo, our new app developed for first time dads, has had some great recent success on the iTunes’ Ireland charts.

This week Daddyo, reached the premier spot on the Top Paid iPad Lifestyle Apps; number two in the Top Paid iPhone Lifestyle Apps; and eleventh in the Top iPhone Grossing Lifestyle Apps.

The Daddyo app was conceived in late 2013 as the essential survival kit for new dads. And this little app, which was developed by iQ’s new dads for new dads, has become the first baby from our innovation division, iQ Labs.

Daddyo app - new dad panicI’ll bring you back a few months. iQ Labs takes ideas from iQ Content’s team and turns them into great products. Daddyo was the brainchild of iQuber, and first-time dad, Tom Cunningham. According to Tom,

“As a first time dad, I was handed a bunch of books and told to get studying. I wanted something that showed me how to be a good dad, and was always there just when I needed it. That’s why we developed Daddyo as an app. We wanted it to deliver straight talking, good advice in bite size chunks to guys who are about to become dads.”

Thanks to everyone who’s downloaded Daddyo, and helped our little one on its way. Daddyo will have plenty of siblings coming from Labs, but for now, all of the hard work and dedication from the team has finally paid off.

Now, we’re going to get some sleep.

No-click purchase – the unsteady rise of subscription sales

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1 US dollar bill
The Internet is faddish – once a novel company has some degree of success, then come infinite variations; just look at the Bitcoin big bang.

Most of these copycat companies fail. But the rare few, the good ones, will carve out a niche.

A couple of years ago, we saw a minor gold rush towards subscription sales models. An update of the old wine club offers at the back of the Sunday broadsheet. The premise was simple, pay a monthly fee and have products delivered to your door.

Companies love subscription models; sell once, get paid many times.

I’ve always felt that this model could be perfect for users too – who wouldn’t want to have things they need delivered direct to their door, before they even realised that they needed them?

Why is it that so few companies have cracked no click purchasing?

So, why is it that so few companies have cracked no click purchasing?

Maybe it’s the products. Many provide a random selection of precisely what the customer doesn’t need.  Do you really want a dozen cosmetics samplers and Irish gift boxes?

This is why the Dollar Shave Club stands out; it hasn’t just survived the subscription model trend, but has thrived long beyond it.

According to Michael Dubin, the Dollar Shave Club’s founder and CEO, there’s a good reason for this.

“In general, businesses that offer convenience around ‘must-haves’, rather than ‘nice-to-haves,’ are good for subscription [models]. You want to be in a business that alleviates a pain point.”

And that’s just what they do – for a monthly fee you get fresh, good-value razor blades shipped to your door.

“Men need razors, and they need their razors replaced frequently. Eighty five per cent of our members shave three times a week or more; thirty per cent shave everyday – and it feels great to shave with a fresh razor blade. Men like things easy, and what could be easier than having the things you need everyday shipped to you, affordably and without even thinking? Breathing, maybe.”

It’s the difference between random bottles of wine showing up at your door, and something that you really need, but often forget to buy, showing up at the right time.

Dubin’s goals of providing “convenient, reliable deliveries, great prices, quality products” are the ‘hard’ reasons to go subscription. But there are softer reasons too.

How Dollar Shave Club frames its message is arguably as important as its business model.

Dollar Shave Club actually feels like a club. Their marketing is funny, and they feel like a cool company. They achieve this, not only through online messaging, but through serious attempts at online community building, with their ‘It’s Your Thing’ initiative.

And every month you’re getting your ‘membership’ pack in the mail.

A friend of mine, who subscribes, said that he gets this weird feeling of being grateful to them that they’ve remembered to send him his pack.

These efforts are leading to “strong customer acquisition, low churn, and lots of referrals”, says Dubin.

How Dollar Shave Club frames its message is arguably as important as its business model.

Even though we’re looking at physical products here, provision of services are going the same way. Download a song on iTunes for 99c or subscribe to Spotify for €9.99. Buy Adobe Photoshop for a few hundred euro, or subscribe to CC and get access to everything.

Of course, subscription services evolve. Netflix was brilliant a couple of years ago, with a massive range of movies in the US. But it has struggled to maintain a high quality roster of movies as the cost of licensing content from studios increases. So it began to create its own content to justify the subscription fee. The value of their initial proposition – access to a library of movies – is arguably diminishing, but there’s the new value of access to great, exclusive content.

Spotify’s initial differentiation was ‘all music whenever you want’, to which they’re adding exclusive concerts and recorded material, and heaps of social integration.

So, is this model a win-win for the user? Maybe, but there are certain criteria that have to be hit.

Here’s our stab subscription model rules:

  1. It’s a value proposition first – customers have to feel like they’re getting a lot and the payment has to be small enough so that they don’t have to worry about it.
  2. It’s useful – it’s got to actually solve a problem that people are experiencing: music is too expensive to buy, I don’t want to download illegally.
  3. It delivers a series of consistent small rewards – it anticipates customers’ needs; whether that’s new blades arriving before you’ve run out, or finding a song on Spotify that you just Shazaamed. (Have we verbed Shazam yet?)
  4. Give customers reasons to like the company – even if it’s only €10 a month, you never want to get to the point where you resent giving the company money, like, say a mobile phone bill.
  5. Build community – value will draw them in. Community will make them stay.

Our client Zurich baked us this amazing Skittles cake



“ Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.“

We’re all high on sugar at the moment after receiving this multicoloured cake-stravaganza from a client in Zurich Life.

We’re big into cakes in iQ – as anyone who has witnessed our annual Christmas cake-off will attend to. So we know how much effort went into this one: seven layers of flouro-coloured goodness topped off by Skittles. That’s right, Skittles on a cake actually work.

We love appreciation from our clients as much as we love sugary things. So thanks Zurich, from all of us at iQ!

The power of pairs – doubling down on interviewing couples

Lynsey Duncan

Often when engaging with users, we think about speaking to people one-on-one. This works in a lot of cases, especially when trying to uncover usability issues in a user test as we need the individual to focus on a task while observing them. However individual user tests are not always the best way to uncover insights about user behaviours.

Recently, when working with a financial services client, we did some interviews with couples. The reason we used this approach was based on the hypothesis that people co-manage their finances with their partner.  We thought we would gain a fuller picture by speaking with both members of the pair.

What we found was that in most cases one person in a relationship takes most control of the finances, and the other person simply trusts them to do this. While this insight is not ground-breaking, what was more interesting was the actual methodology of interviewing people in pairs.

We found the insights turned out to be much richer than they would have been by interviewing the two people separately.

Here’s why:

Participants are more at ease.

Going into a interview with a stranger can be intimidating. For the participant, having someone they know, a friendly face can help make them feel more comfortable and therefore more open. Also if one member of the pair is more introverted they will be encouraged to open up more by having someone they know well there. It can feel more like they are having a conversation with their partner rather than with you the interviewer.

Participants are more honest.

It is a lot more difficult to lie or exaggerate the truth when you are with someone you know well. It can often be the case in focus groups that participants tell the moderator what they want to hear, or what they think will impress other members of the group. In this study we actually witnessed couples correcting each other – “no, you’re not good with money! Sure you are always dipping into our savings account.”

It’s more fun for the participant.

They are getting to spend time with someone they care about and they can share the slightly odd experience of being interviewed about their financial behaviours with that person. One couple I interviewed was having so much fun talking to me and each other that I could hardly get them to leave so I could start the next interview. They continued talking about their banking habits all the way out the door.

It takes the pressure off the facilitator.

Pairs who know each other well will buzz off each other, this makes it easier for the facilitator to keep the conversation going. The main purpose of the facilitator will be to keep the conversation on track rather than diverging into what they are going to have for dinner.



Double trouble

Of course the practice of using pairs does not work in all cases.

When doing stakeholder interviews with clients often more than one person turns up as they feel they will get more value for money by sending more than one person to an interview. I have experienced this many times and in fact the opposite of the above happens, people can actually be more closed.

When talking about work related matters, there can often be politics which can stop people telling you how they really feel about the website, or processes within their organisation. This also applies when interviewing for a B2B product, for example a company intranet.

Being interviewed with a colleague may mean people hold back. Double the trouble with less than half the value.


If the context is right, it’s worth considering interviewing with couples or friendship pairs. It can be more efficient, more insightful and altogether more fun for everyone.


Lynsey is a Lead UX Designer at iQ Content. Follow her on Twitter

Localisation: a local job for local people

Spam as gaeilge

It takes a lot to catch my attention at 7am, but last week a spam email from a Chinese domain did just that.

Why? Because it was written in Irish (albeit stilted Irish). Unfortunately for this enterprising Chinese spammer, my Irish is about as good as my Mandarin. But the email did get me thinking about localisation.

When done properly, localisation (or localization, depending on where you’re reading this) gives companies the opportunity to reach customers they may have otherwise missed. But brands often fall short on delivering a truly local version of their apps, sites and services.

Some localisation errors are forgiveable, such as using American (flavor/flavour, localization/localisation) spelling for U.K. and Irish offerings. My own pet peeve is U.K. and American companies that place the € symbol after the price (12.99 €), rather than before.

But some errors in localisation are more troublesome. American and British English date formats can cause serious problems for customers and developers either side of the Atlantic. 6-7-2014, is either July 6, or June 7, depending on where you live. It’s a small difference that can have a drastic impact.

The challenges with localisation aren’t just grammatical, but social and cultural. Coca Cola found itself in trouble in Ireland when it removed a gay marriage scene from the Irish version of its Europe-wide “Reasons to Believe” campaign. Speaking to The Journal, Coke said, “We wanted each ad to be relevant and valid for its own market”. Unfortunately Coke’s reading of the market was off. The company’s attempt at localisation reveals a simple point: if you want localisation done right, ask a local.

Oreo Cookies’ first Irish campaign is a more successful example of localisation. Created by DraftFCB London, this is a local version of a wider European campaign, which shows local events and symbols etched into the biscuit’s filling. It’s simple, it’s clever, and it successfully places the all-American cookie in an Irish context.

Localisation, when done properly, can deliver great results for brands. But in the digital sphere we need to move beyond differences in grammar and spelling, and start creating experiences that consider the bigger cultural picture.