There are tons of good articles about User Experience, but I personally didn’t find any about Navigation in mobile apps. An article that covers navigation speaks about the rules of making it good instead of providing examples. So I decided to write it myself. Fasten your seat belts and get ready to find out about an important part of mobile development–navigation. The first thing you should determine in developing an app is what your users are able to see and do with the app. Think about it now and write it down. Then create interactions that allow users navigation into, across, and back out from different areas of content in the app.
The Importance of Navigation
There is no one universal navigation for the many kinds of mobile apps and games out there. However, there are some universal rules to make your navigation better:
– Navigation in your app has to be appropriate. Don’t use non-logical navigation, especially in apps that aren’t entertainment. Just imagine how it will work in an app providing charts and numbers. Here everything must be well structured.
– Navigation must always be intuitive. Users don’t have time to look for the right section in your app. They want to use your app seamlessly, visiting appropriate screens and interacting with the right app elements throughout.
– Don’t steal time from your users. They will delete the app after opening it the first time ( ADD RATE OF DELETING APPS AFTER DOWNLOADING).
You might say that app you are working on (or have already released) is super hard and has unique functionality. In this case, users can spend some time on exploring the app navigation. But don’t leave them on their own with complicated functionality. Add tips to help.
– Navigation must be clear. Users have to always know which screen they are on now. The name of the screen can be written on the navigation bar. Another way is through unique and non-confusing screens.
If a user clearly understands what each screen does and where it is located, you can not mention its name on navigation bar, but it also depends on your app structure.
Free your users from the feeling of being lost, or they will leave your app.
Navigation and Different App Structures
Apple names three types of navigation structures, each of them will work best for different apps: Hierarchical, flat, and content or experience-driven.
Hierarchical: Users navigate by making only one choice per screen until they reach their destination. To get to another destination, users must: a) retrace, or b) start from the beginning and make other choices. The best example here can be in settings and messages.
Flat. Here, all the primary categories can be navigated from the main screen. Music and Appstore are good examples.
Сontent or Experience-Driven. Content or experience-driven defines navigation here. It can create a unique user experience or provide a higher usability if none of the above mentioned types don’t work well enough. You can find it in games or in reading e-books and navigating through choosing a page in the table of contents.
Be agile and feel free to combine any of the above mentioned navigation types. Providing high usability is more important than following one navigation type. However, don’t forget to test and make sure that users will like your unique navigation.
Use bars in the app. They will complement your navigation.
A navigation bar will work best for hierarchy navigation and for management of screen contents.
Display some peer categories of content or functionality with the tab bar. With it users can switch seamlessly between categories from any screen. It will supplement flat navigation.
If each app screen represents an individual instance of the same type of item or page, page control is a good choice. It can show how many items or pages are available and which one is already displayed.
Read more about bars in the Apple Guidelines.
Always read guidelines of each OS you are developing an app for. Not respecting them will lead to several problems:
a) App could be rejected on the way to App Store.
b) User Experience of your app would differ from the one that is represented in users OS. User will be confused and will leave the app.
To provide good usability, don’t forget to check apps with similar functionality on the app store. Install them and find out answers for your next questions: – What information structure does this app have? – Does this functionality structure work best for the app’s functionality? – What similar functionality does this app have when compared to my app? – What functions work properly? Should I implement the same information structure and functionality to my app? – What functionality works bad? Does the app’s navigation affect it? – What functionality can be improved by changing (or improving) navigation?
You can add/change and remove questions from this list. Find ones that will work well for you.
Check the comments. Often there are lots of information about the app and its navigation there. If users say that they can’t find something or navigation is confusing, then definitely research this app. You don’t need to study your own mistakes when there are so many of them already made. Just spend enough time to find them.
Navigation should be developed in a way that provides the best user experience. It has to make users intuitive interactions work well with the app’s functionality. If users stop and think, “how can I reach this or that function,” then navigation is bad.
To avoid that, create navigation by each operation system guidelines. In following them, the elements would be in the same places and react to interactions in the same way that the user expects.
Implementing something similar to user’s OS bars is one of the ways of development by guidelines keeping in mind.
If your you have lots of custom functionality, then add a tutorial to the app.
Don’t forget to research apps with similar functionality that are represented in the app store. They can provide some useful information for you.
Navigation is a very important part of the app. If navigation is bad, then users won’t like your app. Users might tolerate bad navigation in one case only : your app is innovative and it provides unique functionality. But you will still have to improve it. When competitors with better navigation appears, users choose it over others.
Don’t be afraid of spending too much time on research. Be afraid of confusing navigation and disappointing users.