The Obvious UI is Often the Best UI
Design clear interactions instead of clever ones, and users will follow Illustration by Thanh Tran, UX Designer Voltaire said, “le sens commun est fort rare”—common sense is very rare. Perhaps to realize that a certain decision is common sense, one has to have enough life experience to know the right path to take , at which point certain choices become common sense and don’t require much analysis. When we talk about common sense with product design, what we now see as strikingly obvious may not have been so apparent to designers when they first started. For a long time, designers have endeavored to make products as easy to use and navigate as possible. However, in order to highlight their products’ features, it has taken time for designers to understand users’ needs and challenges and iterate. Bottom navigation bar = increased usage Google Product Director Luke Wroblewski espoused the design principle “obvious always wins,” and pushed designers to recognize that clear interactions outperform clever ones. After analyzing the user engagement statistics of apps that switched from semi-hidden navigation within hamburger menus to more visible bottom navigation bars, and apps that switched from more exposed to semi-hidden navigation, Wroblewski saw a trend. “Navigation is the manifestation of what is possible in an app and when people can’t see what’s possible, they likely won’t know what they can/should do in that app,” he told me in an interview about this idea. Increasing visibility boosts usage. When the project management app Redbooth (formerly called Teambox) switched from a hamburger menu to a bottom navigation bar, session time increased 70 percent, and daily active users increased by 65 percent nearly overnight. Functionality that had been previously hidden in the hamburger menu was now front and center for Redbooth users to find. Before: The Redbooth (Teambox) app previously used a hamburger menu. After: The app switched to a bottom navigation menu and saw a 65 percent increase in daily active users and a 70 percent increase in session time. On the flip side, Wroblewski found that making it harder to find common features reduced user engagement. When the (former) Polar app simplified their navigation design from a segmented control menu to a toggle menu to make the design seem “cleaner,” user engagement dropped because the primary functions were no longer continually exposed to users. Before: Segmented control menu showed three tabs at the top. After: Daily engagement decreased when Polar added a toggle menu with the “Top” label Bottom navigation bars and accessibility Making design more obvious might sometimes have a side benefit of also making the design more accessible. Ergonomically, it’s easier for users with big phones or tablets to touch the bottom navigation bar using one finger than it is to hold the phone with one hand and use the other to tap on the hamburger menu in the top left. Bottom navigation is also critical for accessibility reasons. In an email interview, Google Brand Manager Aubrie Lee said that users with muscular dystrophy and other mobility impairments cannot always reach the upper portion of the screen. “This is a game changer. For disabled people, technology isn’t just a convenience — it’s often the difference between confinement and independence. Having these bottom navigation buttons is going to make life so much easier for so many of us.” “Obvious” icons are not always “universal” icons Obvious design isn’t only about location of components, but also how easy it is for a user to understand the actions and options in a UI. For example, not all users will immediately understand icons and symbols. The $ symbol…
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