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What are ways to deal with a large number of top-level navigation items?

I am working on a site that requires 50 items at the top-level navigation. The items are all at the same level: they cannot be broken up into sub-menus.

I'm looking for solutions along the lines of these:

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Please explain why the items "cannot be broken up into sub menus." –  horatio Nov 15 '11 at 22:24
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1 Answer

We likely need a lot more context here. This is as much a user experience issue as it is graphic design.

My gut reaction upon hearing "requires 50 items at the top-level navigation" is to stop things immediately and get some content experts in to make sure that's truly a requirement (vs. an arbitrary want).

As it is now, it seems like a shotgun approach and no visual design will really fix that.

All that said, I think scrolling or a tag cloud might be perfectly acceptable. But we'd need a lot more details to say one way or the other.

Some other ideas:

  • long vertical list. Nothing wrong with lists. People know how to scroll.
  • focus on search. make that the primary navigation tool.
  • A broader 'TOC' or 'Site Map' approach and see you can visually segregate them into groups.
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