Study: Deploy Your Buttons Wisely When Developing For iPad

A new study from Nielsen Norman Group has some good advice for those building apps for Apple’s iPad: make sure people know when a button is a button, and keeping it simple never hurts.
The new study builds on one conducted last year, just after Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) launched the iPad. It focuses on how iPad users interact with applications: what they like, what they find cumbersome, and where developers need to concentrate when building tablet apps. It’s not exactly an exhaustive study, with just 16 iPad users surveyed, but the research group managed to draw 116 pages worth of conclusions on the best ways to build iPad apps. The full report can be found here, but here’s a highlight of the results.
Size matters: Too many iPad apps suffer from small buttons that are difficult to click or are too close to a neighboring button as to induce false clicks, according to the study. Also, some app developers need to clearly mark active locations on their application as buttons, because a fair percentage of those studied had trouble realizing the full extent of the application. Nielsen cited USA Today’s original design, which didn’t clearly mark the “sections” button that was behind the USA Today logo on its original iPad application.
Too Much Navigation: Don’t ask your users to jump through too many hoops to get to the essential parts of your application, and make sure to include a back button that lets users retrace their steps, Nielsen recommended. Also, beware “swipe ambiguity,” or the presence of sections within your application that require gestures in a small portion of the screen real estate to function properly, like a carousel of stories on a news application.
Sharing is caring: iPads are not as personal as mobile phones, and not as utilitarian as PCs. “You should assume that you’re designing for a multi-user device. For example, users might be reluctant to stay permanently signed in on an app, and they’ll still forget their passwords,” Nielsen wrote in the study.
Again, a PDF of the full report can be downloaded from Nielsen Norman Group’s Web site here.