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UI shell header

This header is part of the Carbon UI shell. A shell is a collection of components shared by all products within a platform. It provides a common set of interaction patterns that persist between and across products.

UI shell header

UI shell header


General guidance

The UI shell is made up of three components: The header, the left panel, and the right panel. All three can be used independently, but the components were designed to work together.

Shell UI component
HeaderThe highest level of navigation. The header can be used on its own for simple products or be used to trigger the left and right panels.
Left panelAn optional panel that is used for a product’s navigation.
Right panelAn optional panel that shows additional system level actions or content associated with a system icon in the header.
UI shell components.

UI shell components

For each UI shell component, left-to-right translates to product-to-global. The left side of the header contains items relevant at the product level. Moving to the right along the header, the functions become more global. Elements in the middle of the header should represent system-level controls. Elements on the right side of the header, such as the switcher, are the most global in their scope and span multiple products.


The header spans the full width of the viewport and is the topmost element in the browser window. Header elements are persistent throughout the product experience.

Primary header

Primary header

Header elements

Hamburger menu

The hamburger icon is used to open product navigation such as the left panel.

Header name

For IBM products, the header name is always preceded by “IBM”.

Header links

Links in the header are supported as product navigation, if required. These links move to the side menu in narrow screen widths.


Sub-menus are supported as product navigation, if required. Include the down-pointing chevron after the link label. Sub-menus open on click and are closed by either selecting an item in the menu, clicking outside the menu area, or clicking on the menu label. When open, the chevron should point up. Sub-menu labels serve only to open the dropdown; they cannot link to another page in the product.

Header utilities

These utilities are reserved for universal, system-level functions such as profile, search, notifications, and similar functions. Not every product on a system is required to show the same utilities, but it is recommended for a better cross-product user experience.


The switcher provides a way for the user to easily navigate between products and systems. Recommended uses for this component include recently used apps, frequently used apps, or all apps attached to the user’s account. If the list is a manageable size, include all apps or products available on the system.

Links to related systems should also live in the switcher. If you’re building a product for IBM, your switcher should include a link to IBM.

Icon placement

Icons are not a required element of the header and a product may choose to use any set of icons for their UI. Icons should always be aligned to the right of the header with no gaps between icons.

Example of header icons right aligned with no gaps.

Header utilities are right aligned with no gaps

Example of the header icons with a gap between the account and help icons.

Header utilities with a gap between the account and help icons.

Example placement

The example below shows a header with a switcher, three core icons, a product icon, and search.

icon placement.
SearchLeftSearch should always be positioned as the furthest left icon. This is to allow for a expanding search field that does not disrupt other icon positions.
OtherRight of Search and left of core iconsThe number of header icons a product uses may vary. This placement will help avoid disrupting the position of the core icons and inconsistencies as your user navigates between other product shell headers.
Help4th from the right
Notifications3rd from the right
Account2nd from the right
SwitcherRightThe switcher should always be positioned as the furthest right icon. This ensures the icon does not shift when navigating across systems.


As a header scales down to fit smaller screen sizes, header links and menus should collapse into a left-panel hamburger menu. See the examples below to better understand the header’s responsive behavior.

If your UI includes a left panel, the header links should be added above the left panel items, pushing them down accordingly.

An example of the header responding to different screen sizes.

Header responsive behavior