iOS Navigation Styles and Which One Should We Choose in Apps? | by Ali ÇORAK | Aug, 2021


Navigation is an app’s roadmap. Like the sitemap on the web, we should be able to access all the main contents of the application via navigation. In addition, while doing this, we must keep the user experience at the highest level.

The navigation should go unnoticed to improve the user experience. What do I mean? Navigation should do its job and disappear, just like all good designs.

iOS Tab Bars

If I talk about iOS; One of the things Apple pays most attention to is designing a user experience close to the apps they have designed (native apps). Of course, customized designs will make a big difference when carefully designed. But if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, it’s best to use the defaults.

I admit some customized designs look very nice. But fancy designs don’t always work. Beautiful-looking but useless examples are not preferred for real apps.

Since we’re going from the iOS interface, let’s take a look at the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). HIG divides navigations into 3 sections on iOS: Hierarchical, Flat, Content-Driven, or Experience-Driven. Let me explain each with examples:

1- Hierarchical Navigation

Hierarchical Navigation

Simple navigation. But if you have a lot of content, it can be useful to use it. So that the user does not get lost. It is often used in applications with multiple options such as Settings.

It works like this: You make a selection from the navigation elements and another page appears where you can make a new selection. It continues until the options are exhausted or you reach the content you are looking for. To return to the previous page or previous options, you must go back. You cannot switch between contents. That’s why one of the most important elements is the back button (or you can use the gesture, check this article for it).

Where can we use this navigation? For this navigation style, Apple cites the Settings and Mail apps as examples. I will also show examples of APP app.

Hierarchical Navigation on Settings

2- Flat Navigation

Flat Navigation

In short, I can define this navigation as navigation that can be switched between categories. When we view content in category A, we don’t have to go back. We can switch between categories and view content in category B.

It would not be wrong if I said that there is no such page as a homepage (I think the definition of the homepage is not correct in mobile applications anyway). Pages are made up of categories.

For this reason, you can guess that the most important element in this navigation style is the Tab Bars. So as long as you’re not directly viewing the content itself, you can switch between categories. According to Apple’s example, Music and App Store use this navigation style.

Flat Navigation on App Store

3- Content-Driven or Experience-Driven Navigation

Content-Driven or Experience-Driven Navigation

The last navigation style is freer. Here, the contents are scattered and it is not possible to access every content from a single point. What we want is not to access every content from a single point. We expect users to select the content they find and are interested in while browsing the app.

Thanks to the navigation this style offers; it is possible to navigate between contents, categories, pages, and even these subsections themselves.

If you are going to use such navigation, one of the important factors to keep in mind is the flowchart. Identifying your flowchart at the beginning of app design will cut things short. Because as I mentioned, this navigation is freer, so it’s easy to make mistakes.

According to Apple’s examples, immersive apps use this navigation style. And again, according to Apple, games, and books are defined as immersive apps.

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