15 Websites with Inspiring Menu Design
A few things are so essential to user experience as the menu is. Serving as a roadmap for the site, and also, to an extent, as a “means of transportation” for the users to get to a specific location, the menu is the number one navigational element and, as such, needs to be carried out perfectly.
There’s a lot to be said about what constitutes a good website menu, UX-wise. Clean, clear, intuitive and logical – these are just some of the attributes of a well-executed menu. And you don’t even have to be a design wiz to understand that. Even as laymen, we are already intuitively aware of what a menu should look like and how it should work. We are used to finding it in certain places – quite commonly it’s going to be a header menu, located at the top of the page, or a side menu, located to the left or to the right of the main content. More and more frequently, designers opt for hidden fullscreen menus, accessed through hamburger icons or variously shaped openers. Either way, we rarely actually have to look for the menu. That is, if the navigation has been designed right.
The same goes for interactions. Menus (and their items) don’t have to be animated, but it’s often best if they are. Microinteractions serve as indications that a certain action has been carried out or that it will take place if we click, scroll or hover. Take hover animations, for instance – they indicate that if we click on an item, it will take us to a place.
And so on, and so forth. So far, we’re basically just stating the obvious. A good menu means good navigation, good navigation means good UX and good UX means success. But today we actually want to talk about something else. We want to examine the menus that stand out, design-wise.
The thing about web design is that when it’s good, it’s good in every single aspect – functional and aesthetic. You can have a perfectly honest, functional and practical menu that does nothing for you because it is bland, dull, forgettable. You can also have a dashing menu with elaborate interactions, gorgeous typography and loads of embellishments, but if your visitors find it hard to use, if they even have to think about how to use it, it’s good for literally nothing.
A website menu can be both. It can be innovative and practical, gorgeous and utilitarian.
So, let’s try to figure out exactly what makes a menu stand out. To do that, we’re going to check out some of our favorite websites that feature innovative, dazzling, stylish, elegant, irreverent menus. In short, we’re going to try to figure out what makes an inspiring menu design. Stay tuned as we go through:
For her portfolio website, the photographer Julia Johnson created a beautiful combination of retro aesthetics and modern, interactive web design elements, dominated by the large logo in Helvetica. The bold character of the typeface is reflected in the menu opener, consisting of two thick black dashes. When clicked, the icon opens a menu that follows the aesthetic line of the homepage – the Helvetica typeface sets the dominant mood, skillfully coupled with a vibrant orange background. The somewhat stripped-down character of the menu becomes more dynamic as we hover over the menu items, which prompts the background color change and portfolio images popping up, so we basically have two moods here – one minimalist and the other louder and more substantial.
The website of the Montreal-based Baillat Studio, specializing in branding, design, motion and creative direction, is definitely not a minimalist one. Attention-grabbing custom typography, full-width video sections, interactive lists and oversized text occupy the homepage in a somewhat loud manner, so the layout basically has no room for essential navigation links – at least not without resulting in clutter. That’s why the designers tucked the menu away, behind a round opener in the upper right corner – a good place for it, too, considering most people would intuitively look for it there. When clicked, the icon opens a fullscreen menu, which has a much airier and tidier layout with large horizontal sections of interactive text. Massive black typography on a light background creates a fine balance, and the thin separator lines give the menu a tidy look. A welcome touch is the oversized X that closes the menu, as we know how difficult to spot and click those menu closers can be.
When it comes to gorgeously designed, inspiring menus, we can’t help but revisit one of our old acquaintances, whose website we talked about in our article on poster style in web design, Niccolò Miranda. For his portfolio website, the talented web designer and developer set out to recreate a newspaper-style layout with lots of delightful details and twists that hint to the printed media and old school television. It is also a skillful exhibition of web interaction and animation, and the website menu is one of the best examples. A simple icon opens a fullscreen menu with a torn paper effect, a newspaper heading-style title and large Canopee typography that gives the design a retro character. The item indicating the section we’re currently on has a red overline and the letters expand a bit when hovered upon. And that’s pretty much it. It’s a functionally simple and visually very well crafted menu that can serve as an example of menu UX done right.
For the 2022 edition of the renowned festival of digital creativity and electronic music – MUTEK Montreal – the designers opted for a loud, even flashy style with large typography, neon colors and strong navigational elements. The menu opener, located in the upper right corner, has a geometric quality to it – when clicked, it becomes a square containing a circle containing an X that can be moved with the cursor. The menu text is large and partially overlaps with other text, but is essentially just white letters on a light blue background. The left portion of the menu is static and consists of an image. There’s nothing really revolutionary about this menu, no super-innovative interactions, 3D graphics or mind-bending effects. It is, however, a well-designed, informative and practical menu that fits perfectly with the overall vibe of the website and does an excellent job at serving its actual purpose, which is to provide any essential information a visitor might have regarding the festival.
Tucked away in the forests of the Poltava region, Ukraine, the Verholy Relax Park is a spa hotel that promises a perfectly relaxing immersion with nature in a luxury ambiance. The hotel website is elegant and refined, combining dark green background with subtle and light interface lines and icons. The menu is accessed by clicking on the icon in the upper left-hand corner of the homepage, and opens as a fullscreen layout consisting of two sections. The left section features numbered interactive links to the appropriate pages, while the right one displays images related to the section in question. The two sections are connected by a fine curved line, serving as a contrast to the more strict grid lines featured in the layout. Another contrasting point to the straight and sharp elements of the menu is the cursor – a small dot that grows larger when hovered over menu items.
Craie Craie is a Lyon-based architecture and interior design studio known for exquisite style and impeccable taste, which is evident from its portfolio website, too. Combining a very light pink with bright red, the grid-based layout of the homepage spells creativity and individualism, but the real visual treat is hidden behind the star-shaped menu opener. The full-screen menu opens from the bottom in a rather swift but smooth transition, filling the screen with a lovely bright red. Subtle light pink grid lines are matched by the vertical text in the same color, serving as links to the Projects, Studio and Contact pages. The studio logo, as well as several smaller instances of text, are white, which was a smart choice – pink alone would render the design perhaps a bit feminine or maybe trendy (pink and red have been among the hottest color combinations for years now), while white on red would cause too strong a contrast. The entire composition is topped by a small black dot for the cursor, visually tying the whole menu together.
Another website that is so gorgeous we just have to write about it repeatedly (remember our article on purple websites?), Fan Study by Spotify is in our focus today because of its innovative approach to menu design. We’re generally used to finding menus either in the header or behind a menu opener tucked in a corner of the page. This time, we’re looking at the center. An interactive icon resembling volume or bass lines is located in the middle of the header, red on purple background, in line with the website’s initial color palette. When clicked, the icon opens a full-width menu consisting of draggable items, going from one to 15. Poster-like gradient infographics are color-coded and thematically grouped in metrics including Reach, Engagement, Release and Merch. Each item can, of course, be clicked to reveal more detailed information. What’s interesting is that the menu doesn’t offer links to other pages – instead, the very same content is offered below, in the body of the page, so to speak. The menu is, therefore, simply an alternative way to visually present the data – in a digest form, as the sections below are more elaborate and detailed, complete with links to additional resources.
If our next website doesn’t cheer you up today, nothing will. Marketed as Wonderfully Whimsical Weirdo Wigsaw Wuzzle Wumpany, Le Puzz collects, trades and creates random-cut puzzles with a vintage quality and vibe. Not only does Le Puzz recreate the aesthetics of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they also promise that the quality of their puzzles (the thickness of the pieces, among other things) can be matched only by those old school puzzles we had as kids that were so solid you could pick them up from the table in one piece once they’re done. Le Puzz website is delightfully weird and playful, but don’t think for a second the vibe isn’t a result of meticulous design work. From the layout design to the palette, from fonts to animations, every single design element is spot-on. The main brand color is a warm yellow with a retro vibe, used both for the puzzle boxes and for select website elements, such as the header. Le Puzz opted for a simple and straightforward header menu, divided by grid lines into several tidy sections, ensuring the visitors can quickly and easily find their way to whatever they are interested in. The colors of the menu sections revert on hover, turning from yellow to black, and that’s about it. Simple and clean, it’s a menu that supports the overall style of the website perfectly and does its job without any fancy pretensions.
Dedicated to finding, researching and producing clean energy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems is a company that aims to deliver the most efficient path to fusion energy for commercial use. Its work combines science, technology and engineering using state-of-the-art solutions, and the company website is appropriately modern and functional. Note that when we say “modern” we don’t mean intricate motion design and complex pages that take forever to load. Rather, we mean simple, clean design that only considers the most practical and efficient elements in modern web design trends. The menu is a good example – placed in grid, with clean, geometric sections and legible, professional NB International Mono typography, it gives off an air of knowledge and innovation. The sections are hollow but fill in with white when hovered upon, indicating they can be clicked. They are also in a bit of asymmetry – the left part contains four sections with menu items while the right part, which serves as a holder for the company name at the far right side, is longer. Still, there’s no sense of imbalance here, perhaps because the entire menu looks like it follows some mathematical order that we don’t necessarily have to be aware of in order to appreciate its elegant simplicity.
The use of grid lines in web design is certainly one of the most efficient ways to assure clean layouts with content that is easy to consume. When they are thin and subtle, grid lines also add a touch of elegance to a design, which is why we so often see them in websites across all niches. Aroz Jewelry, for instance, opted for thin lines that divide parts of the header (or, rather, the header propper and the top bar) both horizontally and vertically – defining the sections and keeping the content well-organized. The transparent header houses elegant white items with no dividing lines, creating a breezy, light feel. Some of the menu items, when hovered upon, reveal a mega menu with solid white background, as here readability and precision are vital, while others can simply be clicked to lead the visitor to separate pages.
We have lately been seeing a rise in websites whose design relies to a great extent on typography – loud, large, distinctive or idiosyncratic typefaces that constitute a big chunk of the site’s visual identity. The portfolio of the New York-based visual artist and designer Matthew Fisher is one example of this trend. It’s an elegant and finely polished display of Fisher’s work that’s not as image-heavy as one would expect from his line of work. A big counter serves as the preloader, followed by a slider displaying select imagery, and then we are welcomed by a hero section that states “Art Objects” in large letters. The menu is clearly marked in the upper left corner, and opens with a fluid animated transition with something of a curtain effect. A vertical, numbered section on the left displays menu items that combine serif and sans-serif typography and feature a roll-over and font change effect on hover. Hovering also prompts a change in images that appear to the left – each menu item has a designated image that appears when that particular item is engaged with. The menu is entirely monochromatic – white letters on black background, with black and white images. It is an elegant and striking design, and the inconsistency in typography adds a bit of an edge to it.
Jon Way is a creative brand partner and strategist with over 13 years of experience with brands, companies and individuals. Way has invested a lot of care and attention into his portfolio website, using custom typography, video sections and a modern, clean layout defined by horizontal grid lines. The menu is of a “classic” type, if there’s even such a thing. It’s a transparent header menu, with clean, readable items without any dividers or lines between them. When hovered upon, the menu items get a dotted underline to indicate clickability. This clean and tidy look serves as a counterweight for the somewhat busier hero section that features a dynamic interplay between very large and very small typography, followed by a noisy video section. In addition, it assures good UX through clean and straightforward navigation.
Static noise, grid and a finely tuned monochromatic character are the main stylistic components of the portfolio website of Glenn Catteeuw, a Belgium-based digital designer. Never once breaking the website’s unique atmosphere, Catteeuw created an exciting and seemingly simple layout based on a grid pattern that resembles project papers and has a somewhat analog quality to it. The menu is cleverly placed in the bottom right corner of the grid, or, to be more precise, in a part that actually lacks a few squares of the grid. Geometric and precise, like the rest of the layout, the menu is unpretentious yet striking. It features simple hand-written effects upon hover – an overline or a circle, which adds a touch of charm and warmth to the design. Animations and interactions are discrete and designed with good measure, contributing to the cohesive and consistent page design.
A thick, hyper-stylized, animated letter K greets us as a preloader for the website of the Polish art director Kacper Chlebowicz, before taking its place in the upper left corner as the site logo. Meanwhile, Chlebowicz’s last name in huge letters takes center stage, against an animated backdrop of abstract forms. After this initial sequence, we are invited to scroll down and explore the featured work, divided into categories on a vertical carousel. All the while, as we scroll and drag the page, exploring the projects, one thing remains constant and unmovable – the menu. Located not at the top but at the actual bottom of the page, this sticky menu is simple, clean, minimalist. It features just three menu items – Work, About and Contact, with a simple underline effect upon hover. This choice of a simple, even basic menu, shows Chlebowicz’s good sense and fine taste – he could have gone with a full-screen menu replete with interactions and visual content, but, given the nature of the rest of the website, that would have been too much. Instead, he chose to balance the page out with a clean and tidy menu, creating a great navigational pathway for his visitors.
After years of constantly developing, perfecting and polishing our best-selling theme, Bridge, at some point we decided it deserved a proper showcase, and that’s how the Bridge Tour was born. Showcasing not just the 610+ meticulously designed demos that come with the theme, but also some of the innovative design and animation solutions we used for it, the Bridge Tour offers an immersive, exciting and engaging narrative that takes the visitor on a journey through one of our greatest accomplishments. The entire storytelling experience is based on the scroll action – as the user scrolls, the content starts to transform, blend and travel in and out of the viewport. After the initial sequence, an elegant, transparent, grid-based menu appears in the header, featuring the theme logo and a couple of links. The most important element of the menu is the icon in the far right corner that essentially tells the user what to do in order to engage with the website – in most cases it’s the scroll action, but at certain points the user is prompted to wiggle the mouse, to focus, or to play a video. The subtle lines give the menu a very polished and modern look, and the arrangement of the sections bears a distinct geometric quality, communicating order and precision.
Wrapping It Up
As we saw from this short but inspiring trip through various menu designs, there’s no definitive or universally applicable rule when it comes to designing a website menu. Well, in fact, there is something that can be considered a good rule of thumb and a solid starting point and that is – always consider the wider content of a website when designing a menu.
Some websites, like Kacper Chlebowicz’s, for instance, will benefit the most from a clean, neat menu that balances an otherwise rich design. Some will work best if in grid, like the one we designed for our Bridge Tour. Minimalist layouts, like Matthew Fisher’s, can make great use of full-screen menus which, again, provide some form of balance to the overall design. It’s okay to go all in with elements and animations in a menu, as long as it does not hamper the UX in any way. Like we said earlier, navigation represents the backbone of a website, and the backbone needs to be in perfect health in order for the body to do its thing.
Again, functional and practical does not and should not mean plain or dull. It is completely possible to design a website menu that is as beautiful as it is functional, and every single menu on this list achieves just that. As it’s often the case, the beauty lies in small details – the choice of color, the typography, the animation. Combine your most flattering visual elements with a perfectly mapped out navigation experience, and you got yourself a menu that will keep the visitors coming back.