So here’s the thing. Google updated its Google+ app, and it comes with a huge redesign exercise on it.
In case you don’t know him, Luke Wroblewski is a designer at Google. He’s been around for a while, commenting stuff about user experience and visual design. He wrote a lot about the Polar app — which I love by the way— and wrote the first article I ever read about the hamburger menu not working well for engagement in mobile apps nor webs.
The point is, Luke knows a thing or two about UX and UI design and he’s been involved in the Google+ redesign. That looks like this:
This new app looks absolutely beautiful. I mean, look at all that color and rich imagery. And I believe I’ll never be tired of using specific color palettes for contextual elements that surround an image.
And the new Google+ app uses a bottom navigation bar, and suddenly the internet went like ‘that’s not so Material Design’.
Arturo Toledo is another designer I’ll use here as a reference. He’s been working with Microsoft for a few years, and his response to this was…
Who cares about the design language.
He claimed that our focus as designers should be on the principles. To make something useful and to design a delightful experience regardless of the platform we’re designing to. That there’s nothing wrong with a navbar down there.
I can’t argue with Arturo. I believe he’s right about this. Maybe not in all cases, but I feel he’s mostly right.
But I do have a few concerns about this navigation pattern though. And it’s because this is an official Google application, so designers and developers out there probably are going to reproduce this kind of navigation more than once.
You got me at ‘navbar’
I do love navbars. And tabbars. And everything that’s not a chaotic hamburger throw-it-all-there-in-the-drawer-and-see-how-it-fits main application menu. It makes things more discoverable, and it makes the app easier to understand without having to think and read that much. I mean, options are just there. Just a quick glance and now you know about everything the app has to offer to you. If you have any doubts, you just tap on the first tab and if you don’t find what you’re looking for then tap on the second one. And continue that way until you’re out of tabs. That’s it.
But then you introduce another main navigation pattern, that is the drawer menu itself. And now we have two main navigation paths. Or three, if we count the top tab-bar.
Ok, tabs in the top bar might not be a main navigation path, but they count as chrome. They count as more options, more space used for navigation. Good luck to you, 4-or-less inches screen people.
In theory everything has sense. You have supportive nav for user profile stuff, a global nav between sections and a contextual nav for the filters. But it makes me think. I can’t use this app without reading and taking a second to think where I’m going every time I want to go elsewhere.
I’ll give it a quick try here. How about moving the hambuger menu to the last item in the bottom navbar? — like a ‘more’ tab — and then moving the Notifications icon to the top bar, right next to the search icon. That should simplify the main navigation, just like Facebook does in its app. Then to reduce chrome you could make a dropdown menu out of the section title in that top bar to put the filters on it, just like Google Calendar makes to open the calendar control. If you don’t want to hide these filters you could A/B Test another idea. Maybe using an slider at the top of the page, just before the real content starts, like in the app market.
Where am I?
If I’m a new user of this app and I skip the onboard tutorial — and you can bet I will — I don’t even know what differences are between collections and communities. I mean, I could try to understand what they are, but it makes me think. They look almost the same and there are names of people everywhere and I can’t even see an interesting post until I’ve been playing around with the app for a while. I get lost in the many options you provide.
This might not be a problem of the design team but the product itself. Just think about it this way:
Twitter: There are people to follow to read their tweets.
Facebook: Mostly the same as Twitter but you can write larger posts.
Instagram: I follow people to see their photos. Oh and I can chat with them.
Google+: There’s people to follow and you can read their posts. Oh and you also have communities to follow and collections to follow that you really don’t know where they come from. And you can write posts and create communities and invite people and set up collections that have more visual impact than the posts feed itself.
Google+ looks beautiful, but making every content as visually heavy as the main section makes nothing look really important.
Be careful with bottom bars in Android
As designer Josh Clark pointed out, the options in the navbar are dangerously close the the Quit button — as he calls the Home button in Android. Collections is just a 2mm mistap from the user shutting down the app, or going back to the previous screen when they dind’t want to.
I always have this in mind when I design for Android. The solution might be moving these options to the top bar, but there are some issues about long words in other languages here. UX Launchpad talks about the tradeoffs of this solution on this post.
But getting back to Josh Clark, he pointed this out and Luke answered…
Theory vs. practice.
Here’s the tweet anyway.
If we assume Luke made a few tests — and I do believe he has — and he’s right, then we don’t need to move the bottom navbar anywhere. And that’s good. Yay.
Google+ is a great underrated product
This is all. Despite all these concerns I have about this redesign it’s still a product that I’d love to use more. Unfortunatelly it hasn’t found its place among the mainstream users. And that’s the biggest problem this social network has.
Maybe Google is working on this. Maybe they have big plans for Google+ that we don’t see because we don’t know what’s ahead in the product roadmap. Let’s just hope they keep improving this product and they prove that it’s useful for everyone.