A Brief History of the Hamburger Icon


December 4, 2023


November 29, 2023


A Brief History of the Hamburger Icon

Alright, let’s chew the fat about that nifty little symbol that’s become as common as emojis on our screens—the hamburger icon. You know the one: looks like a mini triple-decker sandwich sitting pretty at the corner of websites and apps. This tiny button is like Aladdin’s cave, hiding a whole world of menus and features behind its simplistic façade. And get this—it wasn’t just cooked up on the fly by some Silicon Valley whiz kid. The backstory of this unassuming icon is as juicy as a medium-rare patty on the grill.

So, where did this digital shorthand for “here be options” come from? Believe it or not, its roots stretch way back, way before our smartphones turned into Swiss Army knives of tech. The hamburger icon has been silently witnessing the evolution of the user interface, quietly adapting and sticking around like that one catchy jingle you can’t get out of your head.

Picture it: it’s the 1980s, and computers are just starting to think about maybe, one day, fitting onto a desk without the need for a crane. User interfaces are like the Wild West, with designers forging new paths through uncharted territories of pixels and commands. Along comes Norm Cox, a designer on the pioneering Xerox Star personal workstation team. This guy, in a stroke of minimalist genius, designs the hamburger icon to serve as a “container” for contextual menu choices. It’s meant to be familiar, intuitive, and save on precious screen real estate—a godsend for the monitors of the day that had less space than a shoebox.

But the icon isn’t without its critics. Some say it’s too vague, a mystery meat of a button that doesn’t quite spell out what’s behind door number one. And there’s merit to that—usability is key, and if folks don’t know what the button does, they might miss out on all the goodies tucked away in those hidden menus. Designers are constantly tinkering with the concept, trying to strike that perfect balance between mystery and discovery, between saving space and providing clarity.

The hamburger icon in all its glory. It’s a testament to the power of design, how a simple trio of lines can stand the test of time and become a cornerstone of our digital navigation. Next time you tap that icon, give a little nod to the history behind it, and the decades of design evolution that brought it to your fingertips. It’s a small bite of the big tech world, but boy, does it pack a flavor punch.

Origin of the Hamburger Icon

Our story begins with clever clogs by the name of Norm Cox, a wizard with pixels who cooked up the hamburger icon for the Xerox Star personal workstation. Picture this: the year’s 1981, leg warmers are in, and the world’s first graphical user interface is taking its first steps. Norm’s challenge? To rustle up an icon that was as simple as pie but as functional as a Swiss Army knife.

This icon, my friends, was no bigger than a postage stamp, but it had a job as hefty as an encyclopedia. It was meant to tuck away all the juicy options you didn’t need to see all the time, kind of like shoving your toys under the bed when company came over. Norm’s masterpiece: three bold lines stacked up like a stack of flapjacks, representing a menu. And voilà, the hamburger icon was born.

Now, let’s zip forward in time, from the age of big hair to the era of smartphones. The hamburger icon, like a catchy tune on a mixtape, spread like wildfire. It became the go-to symbol for menus on all sorts of gadgets with screens. From the depths of the developer’s toolkit, it popped up on websites, apps, and even your Aunt Mabel’s tablet. It’s like that indie band that played in backyards and then, boom, they’re on every radio station, and you’re nodding along every time you hear them.

The beauty of the hamburger icon is in its simplicity—a triple-decker of lines that says, “Hey, there’s more behind this button!” It’s the digital world’s way of keeping things neat, hiding away the not-so-pretty bits until you really need them. It’s a bit like magic, isn’t it? A tap here, a click there, and shazam, you’ve got the whole menu at your fingertips.

It’s a slice of tech history, a symbol that’s stood the test of time, still popping up on devices from all corners of the globe. It’s the unsung hero of our digital lives, keeping our screens slick and our options just a tap away. And to think, it all started with a guy trying to make computers friendly for the everyday Joe and Jane. How about that for a byte-sized blast from the past?

The Icon’s Early Adoption and Evolution

Back in the ol’ days, when gadgets were as hefty as a loaf of bread, our pal the hamburger icon moseyed into town. Imagine it: the tech trailblazers were all in a tizzy, trying to squeeze every cool trick into those bulky gizmos without making you scroll till your fingers ached. And then, like a sheriff in a wild west flick, in comes the hamburger icon—our low-key MVP of user interface design. This little symbol was like a secret handshake, a nudge-and-a-wink saying, “Hey, the good stuff’s right behind this door.”

It was the wild, wild west in tech town, and everyone from the MP3 player jockeys to the folks lugging around phones as heavy as a sack of potatoes was slapping that icon on their gear. This little triple-stacked line was the techie’s whisper of choice, a neat little trick to stash the frills out of sight but still in reach.

Now, don’t get it twisted—this wasn’t just about tidying up. The rise of the hamburger icon is a tale of how convenience met pizzazz. The design wizards rolled up their sleeves, transforming this humble button into a portal to wonders untold, while keeping it smooth as a slicked-back hairdo.

They spiced it up, turning a plain ol’ button into a whole vibe. It got to be second nature, something you could use in your sleep, as effortless as flipping a burger. And let’s give credit where it’s due—it got a makeover that turned it from drab to fab.

So, what’s next for this icon? It’s the million-dollar question that has design geeks pacing the floor. The tech terrain’s always changing, shifting faster than a game of musical chairs. Will our trusty hamburger icon keep its spot at the table, or will some shiny new gadget come along and steal its lunch? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Future of the Hamburger Icon

Let’s huddle up and gab about this digital old-timer, the hamburger icon. It’s like that comfy old booth at your favorite greasy spoon—always there, no-frills, and kinda homey. But in the tech world, where change is the only constant, even this familiar face might get a facelift. So, what’s on the horizon for our beloved triple-decker button?

First up, we might be looking at a comeback kid scenario. Think of the hamburger icon as vinyl in a streaming world—vintage charm that’s back in vogue. Picture it: tapping a hamburger menu could feel like dropping the needle on a record. It’s that warm, fuzzy blast from the past, like rockin’ out to a jukebox in a chrome-laden diner.

Then again, this icon could pull a Houdini on us—now you see it, now you don’t. Imagine a day when it’s zapped out of existence, nudged out by some shiny new interface trick that makes our good ol’ icon look like a dusty museum piece. We’re talking future-tech, where the ways we poke around our screens are so snazzy, the hamburger icon feels like a beeper in a smartphone world.

But don’t toss it in the “has-been” bin just yet. This icon’s been the trusty Robin to our Batman, the unsung hero of our screen time. It started off small but turned into a big deal, the cool cat of design, the easy-peasy choice for clutter-free screens and no-sweat surfing. It’s like that vintage ride that still turns heads—it’s got history, it’s got style, and even with shiny new models rolling out, you gotta tip your hat to the OG.


Alright, let’s slap a big ol’ ‘The End’ on this digital tale and ponder the mighty hamburger icon—a quiet rockstar of our gadget screens. This little button’s been like a faithful ol’ dog in the tech wilds, unlocking a world of goodies with just a tap, and hanging tough while the digital winds keep shifting. It’s given us a masterclass in slick design, making things smooth for us click-happy humans, and showing us how snug tech can fit into our mitts.

Quite the trip, don’t you think? Bet ya didn’t expect those three little stripes to become the head honcho of our online universe. But boy, has it flexed its muscles!

So, the next time you’re about to poke that burger button, give a little salute to its grand saga. It’s not just any old clicker; it’s a pocket-sized piece of history, a tiny titan of our tech-life that’s not going anywhere fast. And heck, by the time we gab again, it just might have a fresh tale up its sleeve.

There we go—a juicy chunk of backstory on our friend, the hamburger icon. Whipping up this chat has been nothing short of a hoot, and I’m itching to see what kind of hi-jinks it’ll jump into down the line. Keep your eyes peeled, keep those taps coming, and let’s see what treasures you’ll uncover nestled between those scrumptious cyber buns. Till our next tech pow-wow, keep rockin’ in the free world, tech aficionados!