The website has a navigation bar at the top of the page with links to the home page, an "Explore" page, an "Electronics" page, an "Accessories" page, a "Laptops" page, and an "AZ Laptop" page

Mobile Breadcrumbs: 8 Best Practices in UX

by Mads Soegaard | | 30 min read
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Breadcrumbs act as navigation aids that simplify user journeys on websites. They highlight the path taken within a site to boost user experience, especially on mobile devices with limited screen space. Explore more about mobile breadcrumbs and understand the common design mistakes and best practices in UX. Learn how to craft effective, user-friendly breadcrumb trails for mobile interfaces. Refine mobile breadcrumb design to make websites more accessible and navigable. 

Consider a scenario where you search a website on your phone for the perfect pair of sneakers. You click through categories, but then...confusion sets in. How do you find your way back to the main shoe section without a ton of taps on the "back" button? This is where breadcrumbs come in.  

Breadcrumbs act as simple navigation aids that show your path within a website. They provide a major UX boost on mobile devices where you’ll have limited space to work with. They also play a crucial role when users arrive at a page via search results or external links. For instance, when you land directly on a sneaker page through the site's search feature or a web search, breadcrumbs enable navigation to broader categories like the sneaker collection or the main shoe section. 
 
But here lies the problem - some designers don’t use breadcrumb (or breadcrumb trail) correctly, especially on mobile websites and apps. Some use the breadcrumbs when there’s no need, while some use them in a way that negatively impacts the user experience.  

To understand the best way to use breadcrumbs, you must learn about their best practices. Explore the best ways to design mobile breadcrumbs and how to use them effectively for a seamless user experience. 

Why Do We Need Breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumbs serve as vital navigation tools. They guide users through a website's structure. This clarity becomes crucial on mobile devices as they provide limited screen space. Breadcrumbs offer a compact way to display locations within a site. They also allow users to navigate back to previous pages easily. 

In desktop environments, you have the luxury of more space. This allows for more detailed breadcrumbs. Users can see the structure of a website. On desktops, breadcrumbs can include more text and additional details. 

Mobile breadcrumbs need a different approach as you need to condense information. They should save space while the focus remains on usability. This often means that you may use icons instead of text. Or, it involves simplification of the breadcrumbs to essential levels only. 

The key difference between the two lies in the display and complexity. Desktop breadcrumbs can afford complexity. Mobile breadcrumbs prioritize conciseness and simplicity. Both types aim to enhance user experience. They make navigation in mobile intuitive and efficient. 

Types of Mobile Breadcrumbs

Mobile breadcrumbs adapt to limited screen spaces while they guide users efficiently. Here, we explore different breadcrumb types, each with unique benefits. 

1. Location-Based Breadcrumbs

Example of location-based breadcrumbs 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

These breadcrumbs trace the user's path within the website hierarchy. They offer a straightforward map back to the homepage. Location-based breadcrumbs work well on mobile devices. They provide a clear sense of direction without overcrowding the screen. 

2. Attribute-Based Breadcrumbs

Example of attribute-based breadcrumbs 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Attribute-based breadcrumbs create a dynamic path based on various filters that a user may apply on a page. Often seen in e-commerce sites, they help users track their steps, like "Men > Shoes > Sneakers." This type allows for flexible navigation within categories and filters. 

3. Path-Based Breadcrumbs

Example of path-based breadcrumbs 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Path-based breadcrumbs show the unique journey a user has taken on a site. They're less common on mobile due to space constraints. Yet, they can offer personalized navigation histories in apps where user paths vary widely. 

But beware that this type of breadcrumb doesn’t help users much. It’s better for you to rely on the browser’s ‘back’ button. A history trail doesn’t serve visitors who arrive directly on a page deep within the site.  

Common Mobile Breadcrumbs Design Mistakes

Common mobile breadcrumbs design mistakes. 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Before we discuss the best practices, it's crucial to address the common mistakes designers make while they design breadcrumbs for mobile. You require a unique approach to design for mobile, given the limited screen space and the different ways users interact with their devices. 

1. Overcomplicated Trail

Designers sometimes pack too many levels into the breadcrumb trail. This overcomplication confuses users rather than guiding them. A simple, straightforward path enhances user experience. 

2. Lack of Responsive Design

Not all breadcrumb designs adapt well to different screen sizes. A design that works on a desktop might clutter or break on mobile. Responsive design ensures breadcrumbs look good and function well across all devices. 

3. Small Touch Targets

On mobile, touch targets must be large enough to tap easily. Small links frustrate users (especially older users (or others with poor motor skills) and may lead to navigation errors. You must make sure that you design accessible and easy-to-select breadcrumb elements. 

It’s important to make it easier for people with disabilities to access information, services, and products without barriers. Watch this video to understand the concept of accessibility and its role in today’s design.  

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4. No Indication of Scroll

When designers opt for horizontally scrollable breadcrumbs, they sometimes forget to signal this feature to users. Users may not realize they can scroll for more options without clear indicators. Thus, designers miss out on useful navigation paths. 

5. Inconsistent Style 

Consistency in breadcrumb design helps users understand how to navigate a site. Inconsistent style across pages can confuse users about their current location and how to navigate back. This inconsistency can disrupt the user's journey. It makes navigation more challenging than it needs to be.  

8 Best Practices: How to Design Breadcrumbs for Mobile

You require a different approach to create mobile breadcrumbs than desktop. Space constraints and user interaction patterns on mobile devices necessitate prioritizing simplicity and efficiency. Let's explore the best practices to help you design mobile breadcrumbs effectively. 

1. Make Sure Users Need the Breadcrumbs

Before you add breadcrumbs, confirm their necessity. Users seek quick, easy navigation on mobile devices. Breadcrumbs can guide them through your website efficiently. Consider these examples to understand the scenarios where you may add breadcrumbs.  
 
Add breadcrumbs: Consider an e-commerce site with multiple categories and subcategories. A user that browses through "Electronics > Laptops > Gaming Laptops" benefits from the breadcrumb trail. They allow users to track their path and navigate back to "Laptops" or "Electronics" effortlessly. 

No need for breadcrumbs: For a simple blog with a linear navigation structure, breadcrumbs might add clutter without substantial benefit. If users typically access content directly via search or the homepage, adding a breadcrumb trail could distract rather than aid navigation. 

Users might struggle to grasp the options quickly when a website grows and introduces more navigation levels. Suppose a user reaches the fourth level of navigation without clear labels. They might find it difficult to explore similar items.  

So, analyze user behavior and site structure. Does your site benefit from a hierarchical navigation scheme? If yes, breadcrumbs can help users understand their location within your site. They also provide a swift way to return to previous sections. For complex sites with multiple layers, breadcrumbs become essential. They offer a clear, straightforward path.  

User research can help you understand the need for a particular feature like breadcrumbs. Discover why performing user research early in the design process is crucial and which methods suit you best. 

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2. Simplify Breadcrumb Trails for Mobile Use

You must shorten the breadcrumb trail on mobile devices to enhance user experience. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to include only the last level(s) to support user navigation. This approach is particularly useful in contexts where users might not need the full history of their navigation path but rather a quick way to step back or explore related categories. 

simplify breadcrumb trails for mobile use 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Consider the example of an e-commerce site:  

  • A shopper arrives at a product-detail page from an external search.  

  • They might want to view other items within the same category.  

  • In such cases, a single breadcrumb that links to the parent category facilitates comparison shopping without clutter.  

This method offers a direct link back without the need for a lengthy breadcrumb trail. It conserves valuable space on mobile screens. 

It's important to tailor this strategy to mobile users. Mobile screens make it essential to prioritize simplicity and directness in navigation aids due to limited space. You must display the full breadcrumb trail on desktop platforms with more screen space. The full trail helps desktop users understand their exact position within the site hierarchy more comprehensively. 

3. Focus on Visibility

It’s important to make sure the users can spot the breadcrumbs easily without the need to search for them. They must stand out on the page. Visibility ensures that breadcrumbs serve their purpose as effective navigation aids. Follow these four tips to make the breadcrumbs more visible:  

  • Use Contrasting Colors: Select colors for breadcrumbs with adequate contrast against the background. This makes them immediately obvious to users and meets accessibility requirements. 

  • Strategic Placement: Position breadcrumbs at the top of the page, close to the global navigation. Users typically look at this spot for navigational cues

  • Opt for Clear Fonts: Choose a font size and style distinct from the page's content. It should be readable on small screens without the need to zoom in. 

  • Incorporate Icons Sparingly: Use icons like arrows or chevrons to indicate the navigation path. These icons should complement the text and easily guide the user's eye from one breadcrumb to the next.  

A well-designed breadcrumb trail acts as a silent guide. It leads users without any interruption in their journey. Hence, you must make breadcrumbs visible and distinct to enhance user experience on mobile devices. 

4. Don’t use more than one line

Make effective use of screen space on mobile devices. Breadcrumbs can consume valuable space if not designed carefully. A cluttered display confuses users more than it helps. So, follow these guidelines to make effective use of space:  

  • A single-line breadcrumb trail works best. It clearly shows the site's structure without overwhelming the display. Avoid a trail of items that spill over into multiple lines. This approach muddles the navigation path. 

  • You can highlight the current page's title separately. This action makes the user's location prominent. However, it’s optional to include the current page in the breadcrumb trail.  

Styling choices affect this decision. Every website may approach this differently based on design preferences. The key is to balance visibility and compactness. This ensures breadcrumbs aid navigation and don’t eat up valuable space.

5. Create a Concise Breadcrumb Trail

A concise breadcrumb trail is essential for clear navigation. It helps users understand their location within a website without clutter on the screen. The goal is to balance detail and simplicity while users navigate back to the upper pages without confusion. Take a look at the examples below: 

Good Example: Home > Electronics > Laptops > Gaming Laptops  

Example of a concise breadcrumb trail 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bad Example: Home > Products > Electronics > Computers & Accessories > Laptops > Gaming Laptops 

Example of lengthy breadcrumb trail 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

The good example offers a direct, straightforward path. It guides users from the home page through to a specific category. It also keeps the trail short and relevant. Users can quickly backtrack if needed. 

The bad example, however, includes unnecessary layers. It makes the trail longer and more complex than needed. The example dilutes the user's focus as it uses too many steps. 

Here’s what you can do to make a concise breadcrumb trail:  

  • Limit Steps: Include only essential categories. This keeps the trail readable and direct. 

  • Be Descriptive: Use clear, descriptive labels for each category. This ensures users understand each step of the path. 

  • Avoid Repetition: Eliminate redundant categories that add length without value. 

  • Use Delimiters Wisely: Choose symbols like '>' to separate categories. This maintains clarity without taking up too much space.

6. Truncate Labels

You must shorten the labels to fit within a given space. You need to do this for mobile design due to limited screen space. The label of the last link, often the most specific, might be lengthy. The issue of lengthy labels can arise at any stage of the breadcrumb trail. While this poses no issue on desktop, it might not fit entirely on mobile. 

Good Example: Home > Electronics > Laptops > Gaming… 

Good example of a breadcrumb trail having truncation 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bad Example: Home > Electronics > Laptops > Best Gaming Laptops for Under $1000 

Bad example of breadcrumb trail having no truncation

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the above example, truncation keeps the breadcrumb concise and the path clear, even if the last category is long. The bad example shows the full label. It can overwhelm the user and clutter the limited space on a mobile screen. 

Apply these practices to make sure that your mobile site remains navigable and user-friendly, regardless of the complexity of your site structure. 

  • Prioritize Clarity: Ensure the truncated part still conveys the essence of the page. 

  • Use Ellipses Wisely: An ellipsis (...) indicates more text exists. It guides users without confusion. 

  • Maintain Touch Targets: Even with truncated labels, make sure links remain easily clickable. 

  • Test on Devices: Verify that your breadcrumbs work well across different screen sizes, especially on smaller screens. 

7. Implement Horizontal Scroll

Example of horizontal scroll in breadcrumb trail 

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want an alternative to truncation or overflow menus, horizontal scroll offers a viable solution for breadcrumb trails on mobile devices. This approach leverages the natural swipe gesture familiar to mobile users. It enables them to navigate through the breadcrumb path effortlessly. 

However, it's important to recognize that horizontal scrolls may not suit every user. Some may find it difficult due to limited dexterity. It may make this design less accessible. To address this, you must incorporate clear visual cues in the design.   

Indicators such as arrows at both ends of the breadcrumb trail can signal that the user can scroll through it. Without these cues, users might overlook the ability to scroll. It may lead to confusion and possibly frustration.  

Here’s how you can enhance Usability with Horizontal Scrolling: 

  • Visual Indicators: Add arrows or fading edges to hint at additional content beyond the screen. It encourages users to explore further. 

  • Optimize for Touch: Make the scroll area responsive to touch gestures. It allows for smooth navigation without the need for precise movements. 

  • Consider Accessibility: While you optimize for mobile, remember the diversity of user abilities. Offer alternative navigation options for those who might struggle with swiping. 

The Take Away

Mobile breadcrumbs show the path users take within a website to enhance user navigation. They have a crucial role, given the limited space on mobile devices. Make sure to use breadcrumbs correctly to avoid any hindrance to the user experience. Keep these three things in mind while you design breadcrumbs for mobile:  

  • Simplify the breadcrumb trail to improve navigation and conserve screen space. 

  • Keep breadcrumbs visible and intuitive to help with user orientation and interaction. 

  • Adopt a responsive design approach so that breadcrumbs function well across all devices. 

From here, you can take several steps to refine your approach to mobile breadcrumb design. Incorporate these insights to evaluate your current designs and identify areas for simplification and improvement in visibility. 

You can test with real users to get valuable feedback on the intuitiveness and functionality of the breadcrumb navigation. Continually iterate based on user data and best practices to create more effective, user-friendly mobile experiences. 

Where to Learn More

Take our course on Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide to understand how to design effectively for mobile devices.  

Read about Designing Effective Breadcrumbs Navigation in Smashing magazine. 

Take inspiration for breadcrumb designs from Dribbble.  

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