Android design fails: 12 stupid sins that need to stop

Android Design Sins

From Gingerbread to Jelly Bean and now KitKat, Android design has come a long way in a short time. It's not just the base OS, either: As the platform itself has evolved, so too have the standards for third-party app design. On the whole, Android apps are now more attractive, consistent, and easy to use than they've ever been before.

But every rule has its share of exceptions. For all the Android apps with outstanding design work, there are some with lingering bad habits -- habits that should have died out years ago but refuse to go away. And sometimes, those habits show up in surprisingly high-profile places.

Here are a dozen such examples of stupid sins that need to stop.

1. The legacy Menu icon

With the launch of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in 2011, Google said so-long to the platform's Menu button and encouraged developers to move all options into on-screen menus instead -- a shift designed to eliminate hidden functions on the platform, thereby increasing discoverability and making apps easier to use.

Yet here we are in 2014 with signs of the old deprecated Menu function still hanging around. To be sure, the number of offending apps has shrunken considerably over the years, but that pesky old overflow icon rears its ugly face more frequently than it should.

Here's lookin' at you, Facebook. (Pages Manager, specifically.)

Android Design Sins: Menu

2. Other Gingerbread leftovers

Android design standards have evolved considerably since 2010, but some designers -- including some at Google itself -- evidently didn't get the memo.

Android Design Sins: Gingerbread

Here's a new memo: If an app looks like Gingerbread, it also looks like one I'll avoid whenever possible.

3. iOS carryovers

This just in: An Android app shouldn't look like an iOS app. The two platforms have drastically different design languages -- and if an app looks like it was lazily ported over without any effort to make it fit into this environment, its developer is doing something wrong.

From on-screen "Back" and "Done" buttons to iOS-style navigation and iconography -- not to mention the age-old favorite of nonresponsive design that doesn't automatically adjust to different screen sizes -- there's just no excuse for this kind of thoughtless poppycock. (Oh, yes: I said poppycock. That's how you know I'm serious.)

Hear that, Epicurious and NASA?

Android Design Sins: iOS

4. Splash screens

In the vast majority of cases, splash screens do little more than needlessly annoy users. Rather than make us sit and stare at a logo for five seconds every time we open an app, why not -- I don't know -- just let us into the app

Android Design Sins: Splash

5. "Loading" dialogs

There's rarely a reason for a "Loading" dialog to hijack our screen and force us to stare at a spinning wheel. How about a Gmail-style progress bar that doesn't take over the entire experience instead?

Android Design Sins: Loading

6. Annoying pop-ups

From persistent new feature alerts to obnoxious "Please rate us!" boxes, pop-ups are a great way to make users hate using an app. I'm no rocket scientist, but that strikes me as the kind of thing you wouldn't want to do.

Android Design Sins: Popups
(Above: A new feature alert that won't go away.)

7. Hidden system status bars

There are times when taking up the entire display with an app makes sense -- like with game-playing or video-watching activities. But in something like a weather app, there's absolutely no reason to hide the system status bar.

Android Design Sins: Status Bar

8. Custom share dialogs

Android has an awesome native sharing system -- one that makes other mobile operating systems feel archaic in comparison. So why do some developers insist on using their own clunky and limited implementations instead?

Android Design Sins: Share

9. Invasive notifications

Notifications are for things a user needs to know and/or act upon -- not for things like tips, ratings pleas, or (Goog forbid) ads. 

Android Design Sins: Notification

10. Misused standard icons

The nice thing about standard icons on any platform is that everyone knows what they do. Using a standard Android icon for some random nonsensical purpose doesn't exactly make for an intuitive user experience.

Android Design Sins: Icons
(Thanks to Juhani Lehtimäki for sharing this example in which an overflow Menu icon, of all things, opens and closes an app's navigation drawer (!).)

11. "Quit" buttons or "Press Back again to exit" dialogs

File these sins under "Drastically Misunderstanding the Android Platform."

Android Design Sins: Quit

12. Portrait or landscape orientation lock

Seriously -- need I say more?

Android Design Sins: Orientation

These aren't the only Android design sins that need to stop, of course -- just a dozen examples that have especially been making me want to gouge my eyes out lately. There are plenty more where these came from.

Now, some people will read this and say, "Sure, whatever -- normal users won't notice that kind of stuff, anyway." And they're right: Most typical users don't consciously think about UI design, nor should they. But they do notice when certain apps are more pleasant to use than others.

Good UI design shouldn't be something you actively think about; it should be something that just makes things easy and enjoyable to use. As the often quoted maxim puts it, "Good user interface design facilitates finishing the task at hand without drawing unnecessary attention to itself."

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Whether or not folks are acutely aware of their nuances, the small details add up to make a big difference. Now, if you'd be so kind, please press your browser's back button 17 times to exit this story.

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