We all like things that are familiar. We have favorite hang-out spots, favorite outfits, and favorite restaurants we come back to time and again. We’re willing to try new things, but we find comfort in what we’re used to.
Apps are no exception. When we use a new app that works the way we expect it to, it feels good. Or, to quote a former Apple slogan, “It just works.” That’s why when developers are designing a new app, they should generally try to make it feel as familiar as possible for users. In other words, don’t mess with established behaviors unless you have a good reason.
Enter Feedly. Earlier this year, Feedly got a popularity boost by being one of the first apps to pick up the slack after Google Reader went dark. That’s when I started using it, and I like it well enough. There’s just one problem: The back button.
Most popular apps with built-in web browsers (Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Flipboard) operate like this: When you leave the “core content” of the app to view a website, a new UI border appears at the top of the screen. Generally the buttons on this border let you move backwards and forwards through your browsing history, and close the browser window to get back to the app’s core content. Different apps put the buttons in different places on the bar, but the button to close the built-in web browser always appears in the left corner. Here are some examples:
At a glance, Feedly appears to have a similar set-up. It has a few different buttons on its UI bar, but the “back” arrow in the left corner looks like it should close the web browser and bring users back to their feeds. After all, that’s what the button does in other popular apps. That’s what we’re all used to.
But that’s not what the button does. Instead of taking you back to your list of feeds, the arrow acts as a unified “backtrack” button. So if you clicked through multiple web pages, it brings you back through each one before finally landing you in app’s core content.
If you’re used to that button in other apps (and who isn’t?), this behavior is somewhat jarring. The button doesn’t do what you expect it to do, so it takes a second for your brain to figure out what’s happening. It feels slightly wrong.
One small problem like this doesn’t mean much, but a handful of them can add up to an app that no one wants to use. The fact is, having a button that brings you back to an app’s core content is useful. Feedly should probably make that button act how it does in other popular apps.
Not all apps need to act exactly the same. But before breaking a design convention that users are already familiar with, you should make sure you have a good reason.
What do you think of Feedly’s back button? Is it innovative or just confusing? Let us know in the comments.