May 22, 2015

Mobile App Navigation: Keeping It Practical

Mobile App Navigation: Keeping It Practical

When you’re at a restaurant with a confusing menu, the experience starts off on a bad note. I just want a burger, what are all these options and add-ons?! Why can’t I find the beer list?! The same goes for mobile apps. A menu that is difficult to navigate is a recipe for a bad user experience.

Users come with expectations. They have an idea of what they want especially when the’ve fired up an app. A confusing food menu makes it frustrating for patrons. In mobile, the same issue could lead to a user loosing faith in your application. Function should be clear. It doesn’t need to scream at them. Users are smart. It just needs to be intuitive (the magic word).

Like a food or drink menu, mobile apps are designed for us to make decisions. On Facebook we like, post, or comment. On Twitter we tweet or re-tweet. The given app’s function is obvious and it drives success. The navigation menu should be clear, concise, and completely visible—hence the shift away from hamburger menus. Hiding pertinent information from users impairs engagement despite its visual simplicity.

“It’s tempting to rely on menu controls in order to simplify mobile interface designs —especially on small screens. But hiding critical parts of an application behind [hamburger] menus could negatively impact usage.” – Luke Wroblewski, Obvious Always Wins

Facebook made the switch from a hamburger menu to a bottom tab bar with the upgrade to iOS 7. Redbooth users increased session time by 70% and used the app more frequently when the hamburger menu was changed to a 5-tab navigation menu.

“Our old design was admittedly simple, but in a way, too simple in what it showed and at the same time, too complex by hiding necessary features behind a menu. The new design still feels simple, but in a way that makes the full feature set more immediately accessible.” –Rachel Kumar, Redbooth Blog

While web design allows for plenty of breathing room, mobile design is more complex. The design needs to be clear of clutter, the call-to-action obvious and strike a good balance of form and function. Designers and app owners have to prioritize features and present said features so that spawning a function feels second nature.

A few relevant mobile UX design articles:

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