Do Android UI guidelines really make sense ?

Today, I was looking at the “Pure Android” section on the Android developers website. Basically, they are telling you that an Android application must not look like an iPhone application or a Windows phone application.

Here are the UI guidelines:

  • Don’t mimic UI elements from other platforms
  • Don’t carry over platform-specific icons
  • Don’t use bottom tab bars
  • Don’t use right-pointing carets on line items

Don’t use right-pointing carets on line items” ???

They then display a screenshot comparing the Android settings menu and the iPhone settings menu. I don’t know about you, but the iPhone menu really looks more clear to me (in fact, it looks more clear to several people to whom I’ve shown the screenshot).

Now, let’s see how popular desktop applications implement this. First Word 2010:

Then Eclipse:

Finally, Firefox (in french, but you get my point):

In fact, you can open anyone of the applications that you have on your computer and I’m sure that menu items will either end with “>” or “…” to indicate that there are more options to come.

BUT for some unkown reason, the Android team is telling you that this is bad bad bad and that on their platform you should not do this. I don’t know about you, but I will certainly not do it: if everyone else is doing this differently, there must be a reason for that !

Now let me ask you a question: let’s say that your UI decisions makes your application easier to use but do not correspond to the official UI guidelines: what do you do ?

Laurent KUBASKI

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About lkubaski
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6 Responses to Do Android UI guidelines really make sense ?

  1. matt says:

    I suspect there is some “we don’t want another stupid patent war with [major smartphone maker]” logic behind the decision. The Caret is V-shaped. Not a full triangle. The iPhone has right-pointing carets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caret). Eclipse, Firefox, Office, in your shots above, do not use carets, but simple triangles.
    Maybe another reason for the guideline is that “if doesn’t have a on/off button on the item, and is not underline as a category title, it must be a clickable menu entry with more options, so no need to display any particular indication, our users are smart IT engineers who do not need additional UI clutter”. Which would seem to me like a UX decision mistake.
    To answer your question, I would try to raise the issue to the “team” managing the UI guidelines (if possible. They should have a G+ page, or a twitter account, a contact form, feedback link, anything), and at the same time, try to find a way to achieve the usability you want, without breaking said guidelines (use three dots, or a triangle instead of a caret? 🙂 )

  2. T.Doom says:

    Found your post while searching for complains about this very topic after reading the “Pure Android” documentation… I think they are trying way too hard NOT to be Apple/Microsoft. Some of the UI designs patterns exist because they have proven themselves to work better both visually and functionally than others, but apparently Google wants to be different for the sake of being different, which is really foolish.

    The doc says “While a ‘design once, ship anywhere’ approach might save you time up-front, you run the very real risk of creating inconsistent apps that alienate users.” Really? I thought the reverse is true; i.e. if you maintain consistent UI design patterns across different platforms, people will feel more comfortable with your app instead of feeling alienated when moving to different platforms. Many people own more than just one platform, Google.

    Just look at the very first example with UI elements… both MS and Apple use the familiar white text box/field for text input. Google, being different, decides to change the element into a underline field with the background the same color as the container. Really? Which do you think provides a better visual cue for users to find more quickly? And when are “buttons” just a flat panel without a slightly raised appearance to them (MS design is actually worse)?

  3. Steven Trigg says:

    The caret indicates direction, the iphone screen with right carets move to another screen to the right. The MS Word down carets show menus below and the windows form right menu carets show another menu to the right. To use the caret in the Android menu would be counter-intuitive and inappropriate because the click opens a new screen (Activity) on top, how do you show that with a caret? You can’t, it would be like a windows form menu item having a caret that then opens a dialog, it just doesn’t make sense.

    • lkubaski says:

      My point is that when you have a menu item that brings up another menu item, there should be a visual indicator (“>” or “…” or anything you want).

      When this is not the case, you have no way to know whether or not clicking on the menu item will immediatly “do something” or will bring up another menu item.

    • naofumik says:

      True, but Android uses a left caret for the “up button”. 😉

  4. Pingback: Android Design Guideline Nonsense | Naofumi Kagami

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