Google’s starting to learn about Smartphone User Interface Design

by Joseph K. Clark

The latest Google Android app to drop the hamburger button is now the Google Play Store. Thank goodness Google is finally learning about better smartphone user interface designGoogle Photos removed the design element last year, and Google Maps released it in 2019. The YouTube app removed it as well. Hopefully, the Gmail app, Google Drive app, and Google Calendar apps are next.  If only we could get that fantastic experimental Google Chrome user interface back too!

Why is the hamburger button such a bad design?

Interface Design

Oh my! There are so many reasons! Your first clue is in the name. If we have to make up a ridiculous name to describe an interactive element, that means the designer failed miserably in creating a button that clearly communicates its function. Every time you call it a hamburger button, you’re insulting whoever put it there.

We’ve actually talked about this before numerous times (see: What’s wrong with hamburger buttons?), but we can summarize again.

  1. People don’t know what it does. There’s no indication of what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to do other than “something”. This is because people don’t understand icons. They do, however, understand words because we learned about terms at an early age, and almost all humans have been taught about phrases for hundreds of years. It’s a perfect way to communicate.  See:
  2. It’s often used inconsistently. The hamburger button might be used for one type of thing in one app and a different kind in another app. There’s no consistency and, therefore, no way for a user to predict what’s it’s going to do. I’ve seen some apps with multiple hamburger buttons, maybe one at the top and one at the bottom, and they both do completely different things. That’s not user-friendly at all.
  3. Placement at the top is the worst possible location for interactive elements.  Also, see:

Our 2014 & 2015 articles about this were mainly targeted at Microsoft for implementing hamburger buttons in Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10. I believe this poor design decision is part of what contributed to the fall of Windows 10 Mobile, as all of the data seems to show that hamburger button-based user interface designs have reduced engagement and reduced usability. See:

Okay, okay… I know what you’re saying, “But Adam, the Pocketnow mobile website has a hamburger menu at the top! Hypocrisy much?”  I know, I know, but my excuse is that I didn’t design this site, and the person who did doesn’t read my articles about user experience design or the advantages. It looks like Google does read them, though, since they’re definitely moving towards a better user experience design among their apps.

Adam Z. Lein

Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator, and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies, who have often implemented his usability and feature enhancements ideas. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!

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