Dropdown design: guidelines and examples for web and mobile

June 27, 2024
guidelines to dropdown menu design

We see dropdown menus everywhere. But what makes a good dropdown? What changes when designing for mobile? We got the full run-through for you!

Dropdowns are everywhere in website navigation bars. It’s one of those UI components that most users are familiar with and that designers rely on for important things such as navigation.

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But what separates a good dropdown from a bad one? What are the true functions of dropdowns?

Don’t worry. In this post, we’ll dive deep into a UI component most users will instantly recognize but few can pin down on terms of actual function. We’ll start with what dropdowns are, how we can design great ones – all the way to how you can prototype one in a few moments with our UI design tool. Read on to re-discover an old friend.

What are dropdown menus

Dropdown menus are a classic UI design component. Users see them everywhere, serving all kinds of ends, such as helping people fill out forms. But what are the real functions behind dropdown menus? What is their real purpose on the interface?

what are dropdown menus and why they matter

1. Command menus

Drop down menus are champions of clean interfaces. They offer a hidden world of functionality without overwhelming users with a button overload. This keeps the screen clear and uncluttered, but when needed, users can access a wealth of relevant options. 

Imagine a text editor – a drop down menu for font styles groups those options together, making them easy to find at the exact moment you need to change the font. It’s like having a toolbox with hidden compartments that magically appear when you need a specific tool.

drop down menu design command

2. Navigation menus

On mobile devices and websites with limited space, drop down menus become superheroes of navigation. By tucking sub-menus under a single parent item, they create a compact navigation bar that keeps things clean and usable. 

But that’s not all! For complex websites with tons of content, nested drop down menus come to the rescue. Imagine a website with different product categories, each with subcategories and sub-subcategories. By using nested dropdowns, you can create a hierarchical organization that makes finding that specific product a breeze. It’s like having a branching tree where each branch leads you closer to what you’re looking for.

drop down menu design navigation

3. Form filling

Drop down menus are like helpful assistants when it comes to filling out forms. They fight against typos and errors by providing a set of pre-defined options to choose from. This is especially useful for standardized formats like dates or countries, where a single typo can cause big problems. 

But drop down menus aren’t just about accuracy, they’re also user-friendly. By offering suggestions and eliminating the need to type out lengthy options, they streamline the form-filling process, making it a breeze to get the information in quickly and correctly.

drop down menu design form filling

4. Attribute selection

Behind the scenes, drop down menus act as data janitors. They ensure entered information follows a consistent format, which is essential for maintaining clean data and making analysis on the back-end a breeze. But drop down menus aren’t just data wranglers; they also act as friendly guides. For users unsure of their options, they provide a clear list of possibilities, helping them choose the most appropriate one. 

However, to truly be helpful, these menus need to be accessible to everyone. This means users with disabilities can navigate them with a keyboard, screen readers can understand them, and clear visual cues indicate when they can be interacted with. Finally, to avoid any confusion, both the menu labels and options themselves should be clear and concise, allowing users to understand.

Best practices for dropdown menu design

Dropdowns are some of the most debated UI components out there. Some designers depend on them for key matters such as navigation – but dropdowns come with their own set of challenges. They can be clunky, occupy too much room and present some usability concerns when it comes to mobile devices. Keeping a certain balance of visual hierarchy and accessibility is tricky.

But when done right, they can boost any interface. Let’s go over some of the key best practices when designing a dropdown menu that delivers a great experience.

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1. Don’t change the presented options

Many platforms go for interactive dropdown menus, where the options depend on settings or selected features. Picture Chrome’s dropdown menu at the top of the screen. It would be confusing to users if the options listed in “Window” changed depending on which website they were looking at.

Users want great design – but they all need good usability. Changing the options of the dropdown menu will, without a doubt, confuse users. It will also make it more difficult for them to learn to use all features, directly impacting the discoverability and learnability of the product. This is closely connected to maintaining a consistent design for button states and choosing the right components.

You can also explore more about the ever-raging debate between radio button vs checkbox.

never change the options in the dropdown menu

As a general rule, you want to establish which options go on the menu and keep them constant. Ah, but what about times when certain commands and controls aren’t available, you ask. It’s perfectly plausible that not all the controls or options of the dropdown menu can be available at all times – due to silly things like a lack of internet connection to other factors in the general design. In times like these, the best thing is to grey out any unavailable options.

This helps users understand the general functionality of the dropdown menu while immediately identifying which options are unusable. On mobile apps, consider adding a brief tooltip explaining why an option is unavailable, especially if it’s context-dependent.

For example, a photo editing app might have a dropdown menu for filters. If a user has a black and white photo selected, the “Warm Tones” filter could be grayed out with a tooltip that says “Not applicable for B&W photos.”

2. Let the user see all the options sans scrolling

One of the main concerns when designing dropdown for both menus websites and mobile apps is the size and number of options. What makes a dropdown menu too big?

Generally, the need to scroll (or lack thereof). The general usability of the dropwdown menu is closely related to its size. If the menu offers too many links and options, users won’t be able to see them all at first glance. That can lead to users struggling to scroll while keeping the dropdown open, or users not even realizing they need to scroll to see more options.

long dropdown menus that need scrolling are a no

In either case, you risk having either confused users or having users who never get to enjoy your design to its full potential. You want to create a dropdown menu that is short and sweet, making the absolute most of every option in there.

3. Find the right balance for cognitive effort

Dropdown menus can be a handy way to avoid making users type things. As we know, typing requires a lot of cognitive effort by the user, which is why dropdowns are common in form design. However, the dropdown menu being the right choice will depend on a couple of factors.

dropdowns require cognitive effort, you want to strike a balance

Consider a form that asks users for their birthdate. While the month input might be improved by a dropdown menu, the day and year may not. Giving users a long list of years to choose from can create more friction, and actually require more effort than simply typing the year.

The real trick when designing dropdown menus, especially when it comes to form filling dropdowns, is striking the right balance. That is, the balance between typing information and simply selecting it from other UI components, such as dropdowns or checkboxes. The right choice of UI component will most likely depend on what type of form you’re creating, and the kind of user that will be filling it in. The cleaner the design, the less effort it should take to use the product. This is can be seen implemented to an extreme in minimalist websites.

Here are some additional pointers to consider:

  • Mobile Apps: On mobile apps with limited screen space, prioritize the most commonly used options within the dropdown menu. If there are many options, consider using a search function within the dropdown itself to help users find what they need quickly.
  • Web Forms: For complex data entry on web forms, multi-level dropdown menus can be helpful for organization, but be sure they don’t become too nested and overwhelming.

4. Don’t abuse dropdowns in main navigation

Many websites out there use and abuse dropdowns, and it’s easy to see why. It can be such a convenient way to store more paths and links to all corners of the website, using little screen space while making sure the path is there should users want it. But there is a problem with that idea: users who are discovering your website.

using dropdown menu design in navigation

Your website’s top ranking pages or categories should be visible to users, without making people look for them. This is particularly true for large websites that hold a lot of content, such as ecommerce platforms and online retailers. The large number of categories and pages can make it challenging to design the navigation, which leads to many designers relying exclusively on dropdown menus to solve the issue.

Looking to explore new things? Check out this guide to game ui or this guide on the trend of skeuomorphic design.

However, this can be confusing for mobile apps as well. While dropdown menus can be used on mobile apps, they should be used sparingly and only for secondary navigation. On mobile apps, prioritize the most important functions and user actions on the main screen.

Overall, it’s not advisable to hide the top pages of your website. This is for the simple reason that some users may not be able to find them, or at least won’t be able to find them before throwing in the towel and moving on to a website that is easier to work with.

If you have a website with many top-ranking pages or categories, consider going for a mega menu instead. It works in a similar fashion to dropdowns, but mega menus are more noticeable and that means users will be less likely to overlook the main navigation.

example of navigation dropdown design

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On mobile dropdown menus

Mobile apps are notoriously difficult to design, because of the reduced screen space. This puts dropdown menus in a tough spot, as they tend to occupy a lot of space when expanded. But there are some tricks and factors designers can take into account when using dropdowns on mobiles apps.

iOS pickers

Apple understood the issues with placing dropdowns on mobile screens from an early point in time. Instead of letting designers come up with a way to make dropdowns work in Apple phones, it came up with the pickers UI component.

Pickers are basically iOS-tailored dropdowns that don’t expand the way a classic dropdown would. A picker rises from the bottom of the screen, occupying about a third to half of the entire space. The page that gave rise to the picker can still be seen behind it, so that users can refer back to what it is that they are picking to begin with.

apple uses ios pickers instead of dropdown menus

In fact, Apple recommends that designers keep the picker on the same page as a modal, so that users get to see the label or question. Apple also asks that designers keep their options to a bare minimum, as scrolling through long lists of options can be tedious for users. You can find more details about this in their human interface guidelines.


Unlike iOS, Android doesn’t have its own way of portraying dropdown menus. Instead, designers are offered a few pointers on how to get these menus right on Android apps.

Firstly, Material Design guidelines state that dropdown menus need to be in very close proximity to the icon that generated them in the first place. Designers have quite a bit of freedom here, with the possibility of placing the menu just about anywhere on the screen.

android mobile - showing dropdown design for android

Another important detail is the changing states of the menus. Material design focuses on the active state of a dropdown menu, which should help users understand where they are and what they are doing. This works in a similar fashion to changing states of input fields in form design. These same states can help a dropdown in a form design to show error messages or signal that something’s gone wrong.

For more details: Check out our comparison between Flat design and Material design.

Well-designed drop down menu examples

No matter how well you describe something – sometimes, seeing is believing. In this case, it’s inspiration rather than belief. Let’s check out some great dropdown menus that designers have come up with over time, and try to pin down why they work so well.

Website drop down menu design examples

1. Justinmind

Yes, the Justinmind website shamelessly uses dropdowns on our navigation bar. The cool thing about the dropdowns on our website is the careful planning of the changing states of the links.

justinmind website - dropdown menu design for navigation

When expanded, the dropdown design offers users a series of links. When hovering on any given link, users will see the others fade to a shade of grey. Notice that all of the dropdowns are short and sweet, without any need for scrolling. Our design team did us proud!

2. Facebook

Facebook enjoys about 2.6 billion active users every month. The whooping success behind the social media giant is a result from many different factors – the drop down menu UI design is one of those factors. Facebook makes very smart use of dropdown menus, using them for everything from helping users with issues to listing out notifications.

facebook example of dropdown experience

3. Medium

Medium is a hub of designers and creatives who get to share stories and information. Their website can be considered a good example of using dropdown menus in order to take users to the most important corners of their account. The interface uses simple gray lines to separate the links, grouping them according to their nature.

profile dropdown example from medium with action buttons

4. Sunglass Hut

Sunglass Hut‘s dropdown menu is your one-stop shop for navigating their vast collection of sunglasses. Brand fanatics can dive straight into iconic names like Ray-Ban and Prada, while trendsetters can explore the latest arrivals with a single click. 

The menu caters to all budgets with a dedicated price point filter, and for those seeking specific features, options like polarized lenses and smart glasses are just a dropdown away. Whether you’re a brand loyalist or a browsing newbie, Sunglass Hut’s dropdown menu equips you to find the perfect pair of shades to complete your look.

drop down menu design example sunglasses

5. Apple

Apple is a master of interface design, which we can appreciate in the smooth and minimalist lines of iOS – but also in their website. Apple makes every button count, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the dropdown menu of the shopping cart.

shopping cart example from apple

Leave it to Apple to take something like a cart dropdown and turn it into a source of useful links for users. People are offered links to their favorite items, account settings and so on. The best thing? Even with the additional links, the general feel is spacious and visually pleasing.

6. Photoshop

Photoshop is a staple in every UX designer’s toolbox. Photoshop, like many other pieces of software, needs to get a large number of buttons to users in a way that is logical and easy to find. It does this with dropdowns, which expand to show a selection of action controls.

dropdown with action buttons - example from photoshop

It’s true that the learning curve for programs like Photoshop is big, but given the sheer number of buttons designers need, the UI design actually does a great job. Designers can learn their way around the different dropdown menus, which are well-organized and become easy to remember over time.

7. Ryanair

Ryanair, the European airline, awakens mixed feelings in most people. Their website design, however, makes for a great dropdown menu example. With form design, it can be tricky to strike the right balance between dropdown lists and allowing users to simply type or select what they need. Ryanair got that balance right, giving users the option to choose the location of their flight from a list of options in a dropdown.

ryanair mega menu dropdown example

The UI design looks clean and since this is a web format, users could simply select the country as opposed to scrolling through options. It’s clever design that gets users where they need to be faster and with much less effort.

8. Puma

Puma makes for a good example of a dropdown menu with navigation purposes. The menu expands to show an organized series of links to the most important categories and pages. It’s clean, modern and it gets the job done in a very straightforward way.

puma mega menu example of dropdown

But while an argument could be made that there are too many links on the dropdown, we love that they are presented in a way that is never overwhelming, with the top-ranking categories in bold.

9. Converse

Converse’s website unfolds like a map, with the drop down menu as your guide. Chuck Taylor devotees can head straight for their icon (think classic silhouette!), while fashion explorers can discover the latest trends with a single click. It’s a one-stop shop for all styles, offering options for men, women, and little ones. 

Unleash your inner designer with a dedicated section for creating your own custom kicks – rainbow letters mark the spot! Whether you’re a Converse champion or a curious newcomer, this dropdown menu empowers you to find the perfect pair to reflect your unique style.

drop down menu design example converse

10. Dropdown menu by Shiva

We love this little study of drop down menu website design by Shiva. It touches on the connection between hamburger menus and classic dropdowns we’re all used to. While the dropdown with the exclusive use of icons may not go far enough in delivery meaning to each link, we love the general feel of the design. 

dropdown design study by shiva

We’re fans of the third dropdown menu in the image, which the designer clarified that user would be able to type and search for their favorite food. This is a smart way to strike that balance between use of dropdowns and actual typing – simply let the people decide!

11. Airbnb

When we mention Airbnb, there’s a lot of great takeaways from their website. The UX design behind it all minds the details and delivers a great experience all around. We can clearly see all the careful planning behind the design in the dropdown menu when a user is booking accommodation.

dropdown feature that holds pickers for airbnb

Instead of offering several options for users to choose from, the interface offers a simple way to determine the number of guests. The dropdown itself has three types of guests: adults, children and babies. The drop down menu design itself has four types of guests: adults, children, infants, and pets. With each type of guest, users can click on more or less until the desired amount is reached. Smart!

12. Dribbble

Dribbble is an entire community of designers and creative professionals, which means that the bar is set very high for Dribbble’s UI and UX design. And right off the bat, the navigation bar lives up to the task. Upheld with impeccable visual hierarchy, the dropdown is a wonderful example.

dribbble dropdown menu example

We love that while the dropdown is meant for navigation, it still delivers beautiful visuals, offering illustrations for most options as well as a brief description of the destination. It’s smart, it leaves room for the user to breathe and offers a central road to most of the platform.

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Mobile app dropdown menu examples

While some OS have their own brand of drop down menus, others do allow designers all sorts of freedom within the confined space of a mobile screen. And precisely because getting dropdown menus in apps is so hard, we should all appreciate those that get it right. Let’s see some designers who managed to hit the nail with the following drop down menu design examples.

1. Help and Feedback

Alex Muench designed this wonderful example of a dropdown that is oriented towards help and feedback for Doist. The general UI of the menu is clean, with flat icons that are filled with personality and a soft color palette.

help and feedback dropdown example for mobile

2. Profile Dropdown

Gina Chee designed a dropdown example that is modern, eye-catching and unique. It goes in the exact opposite direction of other dropdown examples in this list, forsaking soft colours and discreet palettes. This dropdown is the star of the show and offers an experience that users are unlikely to overlook or forget.

example of vibrant visuals in dropdown

3. The extra cup

This drop down menu mobile design example by Riley Jones is minimalist and offers vintage vibes to users. The color palette is as simple as it gets, with the contrast between grey and black being the main dynamic. We love that the dropdown itself has a shadow, adding depth to the interface. On a separate note, users are likely to really appreciate that microcopy in the CTA!

the extra cup - example of mobile app dropdown

4. Dropdown

Madalyn Lee created a mobile dropdown that takes up the entire screen, but isn’t overwhelming. The fact that the entire screen is occupied by the menu gives it plenty of empty space, giving the user’s eyes a bit of rest, and focus on the listed options.

full screen dropdown example for mobile apps

From the strong contrast between the black background and the white font, to the use of color to signal the selected option – this is a drop down menu mobile design example that minds the usability of it all. And we love the design for it!

5. Mobile breakpoints

Purple Bunny brings us a drop down menu design example that is all about visual hierarchy and the soft use of color. We love that in this drop down menu, the user can still see the main navigation and some crucial buttons along with the listed options in the menu.

avasant example of mobile dropdown menu

The use of icons, navigation buttons and regular buttons might be confusing, but Purple Bunny has a visual hierarchy that makes the grouping of links easy to understand at a glance. That’s not easy to accomplish, which is why this makes for a wonderful dropdown menu design example!

6. Dropdown with animation

Niki Smeets created a bold and innovative dropdown menu design example. We love that the screen is bright and colorful, but still lets the user focus on the dropdown menu from the “More” button. The positioning of the dropdown, along with the large font makes it eye-catching and easy to use.

dropdown example for mobile screens

We also love that even though the dropdown menu is large, users can still see the original button and screen, checking a very good usability box. Not to mention that the microinteraction in this dropdown example is enjoyable and to the point – another great box checked.

7. Mobile Menu Interaction

Claudio Vallejo created this beautiful drop down menu design option for mobile screens. This example consists of a vertical dropdown that exposes a whole navigation network of links. Some of the things we love about this drop down menu example include the use of soft colors, the brief but meaningful interactions and animations along the beautiful structure of the listed options.

example of vertical dropdown menu

The general menu that the dropdown exposes is well-organized, with dropdowns used within the menu itself using the ‘plus’ sign. The result is a menu that offers many different options, but conveys a good hierarchy in the options, resulting in a menu that users can easily understand.

8. Disney+

Disney+ made headlines all over the world when it first premiered. The streaming service aims to compete with giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, resulting in a lot of effort being invested in their design. One of the things our team loved about the mobile interface was the dropdown menu UI design.

disney+ transparent dropdown example

The menu itself occupies the entire screen, but it doesn’t feel like a separated thing from the original page due to the transparency of the modal. The listed options are spaced out, leaving no room for distractions or confusion.

9. Vimeo

Vimeo got its dropdown design right. The dropdown expands to form a modal window, which doesn’t take up the entire screen. The modal leaves plenty of room so users can see the original screen, acting as a reminder of the dropdown’s function.

vimeo app dropdown example of modal

The label at the top of the modal acts as a clear direction as to what the dropdown does, and what it refers to. The options listed aren’t that many, leaving plenty of room for icons and empty space, and giving users’ eyes room to rest. Well done!

10. Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is another great example of a piece of software that involves a lot of different action buttons. The mobile app includes a great example of a dropdown menu that rises from the bottom of the screen, leaving ample room for users to see the original screen behind the extended menu.

small mobile app dropdown example

We like that the options aren’t numerous, giving the user space to breathe. The listed options stand out with enough contrast to ensure good usability, while the general design makes the menu fit in effortlessly with the rest of the tool.

Prototyping a dropdown menu in Justinmind

Now for the fun stuff – prototyping a dropdown menu. In our example, you’ll see a standard navigation menu where users can make their way around the portfolio site. You could recreate this using simple text boxes, but there’s a more powerful way to go about it.

  • First, we’ll create the main menu, which we will attach dropdown options to. In our example, we used a “text table widget” and made it one row long with five columns. 
  • Replace the default text in each cell with your main menu options. In our example, we have “Home”, “Portfolio”, “Services”, “Clients” and “Contact”.
  • Next, we’ll need to create the dropdown options for each main menu option, using an additional text table widget for each dropdown selection.
  • In our portfolio dropdown there are three navigation options: “Corporate Identity”, “Brochures”, “Flyers” and “Photography”.
  • Drag the additional widgets to the canvas. In the properties tab, adjust the number of rows and columns, as well as the menu text.
prototyping a dropdown menu design

Making your dropdown prototype interactive

1. Adding interactions

  • Click on the cell in your main menu that you want to be interactive (the one that triggers the dropdown). This will open the interaction settings menu.
  • Within the interaction settings menu, add an “On Mouse Enter” event and a “Show” event. This makes the dropdown appear when the user hovers their cursor over the main menu cell.
  • Next, add another event, “On Mouse Leave” and “Hide.” This ensures the dropdown disappears when the cursor moves away from the cell.
  • To prevent accidental hiding, click the link to “Add Condition”. In the logic section, use a “NOT” button. Then, in the elements section, click the dropdown menu and choose “is visible.” This ensures the dropdown only hides when the user clicks outside of it, not when hovering over other menu items.

2. Repeat for all menus

Simply repeat the previously stated steps for the other main menu cells to make all your dropdowns interactive.

For a more detailed tutorial: Go to our Help Center How to prototype a dropdown menu.

3. Test it out

Simulate your prototype to see your interactive dropdown menu in action! This will help you refine the design and ensure a smooth user experience before implementing it in your final product.

In the Events palette, there is a link to add a condition. Click this and in the logic section add a NOT button. In the screens section, click the element you wish to add the condition to. In the dropdown menu click ‘is visible’. What this does is that it hides the element when you’ve not clicked on it. You can repeat these steps for the other text cells.

Now all you need to do is simulate and you’ll have your interactive dropdown menu!

The wrap up

Dropdown menus can be incredibly handy. They have the power to compress many different things into a single UI component, saving precious screen space. But it doesn’t come free of restrictions, as we’ve seen.

When done right, these UI components can truly help users and save designers a lot of stress. The bottom line is doing all of this, while still maintaining your usability levels. The good news is that, with care and practice, any designer is capable of creating a dropdown that users can love!

Sarah Shaar
In-house content writer, cat enthusiast, wave chaser, and inhabitant of both metaphysical and physical realms.