Many common iPad app designs are actually too confusing or frustrating for users, according to a study from the Nielsen Norman Group.
The study, which looked at the usability of iPad apps and websites, found that app users often don't know that certain areas of the app interface have functional uses. If something looks like a button with a label, it's obvious that pressing it has a purpose. But app designers often use logos as buttons and it's not immediately clear to users that tapping the logo has a purpose.
Other design issues include problems with navigation. In the first usability study, conducted in 2010, Nielson Norman found that users needed more back buttons to help them return to where they wanted to be. Though there was some improvement a year later, poor navigation design persists.
"This year's testing still found many cases in which users accidentally touched something and couldn't find their way back to their start point, as well as magazine apps that required multiple steps to access the table of contents," wrote Jakob Nielsen, one of the researchers who conducted the study, in a summary of the results.
Gestures in apps are equally confusing for users because it's not clear what motions will work. Many users learn simply by trial and error. To compound the problem, users also dislike instruction screens or tutorials that might teach them which gestures to use. Most users skipped the tutorials. Nielsen Norman Group recommends that developers simply use visual markers as clues, such as an arrow to indicate a swipe gesture.
The study found that iPad users are particularly loath to fill out registration forms, even more so than they would be to register on a computer. This led to recommendations that apps remember logins and try to pre-fill information boxes for users as much as possible.
The study shows improvements overall in app design, which is to be expected as the iPad is well into its second year as a major consumer product. However, the Nielsen Norman Group specifically recruited testers with more iPad experience than last year, so the continuing problems with navigation schemes, even for seasoned iPad users, shows how important it is for developers to change iPad app designs .