September 21, 2009, 12:02 PM — While the Apple iPhone is known for its great simplicity, some apps drive users absolutely crazy. The problems stem largely from the poorly designed ways that certain apps manipulate the iPhone's touch features, as well as confusing button placement.
"There's a set of guidelines [developers] can get from Apple that say here's what icons you should use for these type of functions and here's how you should lay them out," says Bill Westerman, principal and CTO of Create with Context, a design and research firm. "This gets you 70 percent of the way there, but then there's this other 30 percent that are de facto standards which have evolved over time." And if developers don't follow them, user frustration ensues.
Create with Context, whose customers include Accenture, Adobe and Yahoo, recently brought iPhone users to its Silicon Valley lab to observe how they interacted with iPhone apps. Researchers found that users became confused due to app and button inconsistencies, buttons with graphic designs that didn't reveal their functions, poorly laid out buttons, screen layouts that lacked visual cues, and, of course, ugly icons that blemished the home screen.
Here's a look at the five most annoying app design flaws:
Aggravating App and Button Inconsistencies
When it comes to button placement on a screen, users balk at inconsistencies between apps. For instance, touch the "+" button in the Calendar app in the upper right corner and you can create a calendar entry. The same button in the World Clock in the upper right corner brings up a clock for a new time zone. But in the Safari app, the "+" button is at the bottom of the screen, not in the upper right corner where iPhone users have to come to expect it.
The problem gets worse when a similar looking button has different functionality between apps. The main screen in the new Facebook iPhone app, for instance, lets you add buttons of preferred pages. In the upper right corner of a preferred page, there's a box with and an arrow in it. This button design is commonly used in other apps to send information, so many users naturally assume they could send the Facebook page to a friend. But the button, in this case, is used for deleting the page from the main screen.
If I Tap This, What Will Happen?
The Facebook problem is often repeated in other apps--that is, the graphic design of the button is either misleading or ambiguous.