Navigation Menu Block: Usability Testing Results


Two weeks ago, a group of WordPress design researchers conducted seven usability tests with a combination of beginner or casual WordPress users (5), and power users (2). Most of them hadn’t used Gutenberg yet.

The goal was to learn more broadly about how people use navigation menus, and about their mental models related to navigation for a website. We also wanted to validate whether the proposed solution was on the right track. 

The team selected moderated usability testing for two reasons: 

  • The prototype being tested was rough and limited in functionality; without moderation, testers could easily get stuck or confused.
  • There were a number of broad questions to answer.

The usability testing script comprised of a short exploratory interview, followed by a task-based evaluation of the prototype. This allowed the team to ask exploratory questions when the participant expressed moments of delight or confusion, or to pause and uncover more qualitative insights. It also allowed the team to better test the prototype, which had limited functionality.

Thank you to all the design researchers who participated: @josearcos, @favoriteswan, @kjellr, @mapk, @vishalmukadam, and @dpknauss.


The research team spent this past week reviewing notes, breaking out key insights and turning them into “sticky notes” for easy rearranging, which was helpful for synthesizing the data into coherent groups afterwards. We marked off positive, negative, and workflow-oriented insights for each session. Then, we grouped the negatives together and created action items for each major problem.

A preview of our Figma groupings; see Figma link for more details.

Some of the issues were inherent to how the prototype worked, or are related to Gutenberg as a whole, so we separated those out from the actionable items:

A preview of our unaddressable items in Figma. See Figma file for more information.

Overall? Our testing went way better than I was expecting for such a complex block.

The biggest barrier our power users had to overcome was doing things the “WordPress way.” When the team asked them to add a menu, they hunted around for a wp-admin link—which didn’t exist in our prototype.

Once the testers figured out they could add the menu directly from the front-end screen, they were delighted.

Beginners struggled the most with learning the fundamental Gutenberg patterns. Some of the icons and labelling were especially confusing — we’ll be looking at improving both in our next iteration. Many of our testers weren’t sure if they were previewing their page, or editing it. Many wanted to press a “publish” button after making changes. Because many people encountered the menu item dropdown early, they kept returning to it when looking to complete a task. In many cases, they glossed over new UI to return to what they’d already used. We’ll want to account for this in future iterations.

Of the various steps, people struggled the most with adding pages to their menu. Most figured out how to add a menu, and then add a new page okay, but the search interface tripped up a lot of our testers. We’ll need to focus on improving this UI.

By the end, pretty much everyone seemed comfortable with the general concepts, and had learned about the “add” icon, the menu item dropdown, and how to move pages around. 

“I like this, I wish mine did this!”

A navigation menu tester

Most of our testers were really excited to see WordPress heading in a more visual direction, and found our new UI way easier than the only ones they’d used in wp-admin and the Customizer.

Next Steps

@tinkerbelly and I are compiling a list of all of the changes we need to make to the prototype. @tinkerbelly is working on implementing those changes in an iteration on the prototype, which we’ll then walk through with @lukepettway later today to get his insights on any accessibility issues we might run into. 

After implementing any changes @lukepettway suggests, either @tinkerbelly or I will write up a design handoff on the GitHub issue and chat through the prototype with the developer who’ll be working on this block, @jorgefilipecosta

Once the team has a working PR of the Navigation Menu block, the next step will be another round of testing. Stay tuned for more information on that in the coming weeks.