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If full navigation is provided for every page of a simple site, should there be a back button among its options?

Example Scenario: A mobile website has 4 child pages, all accessible via navigation on the home page:

  • Login
  • Contact Us
  • Store Locator
  • Jelly-Of-The-Month

Inside any of these 4 inner pages, a navigation bar is provided that has links to each of the 4 inner pages as well as the logo which returns the user to the homepage. The navigation bar is consist across all inner pages.

In this scenario, should the navigation bar also include a "back" button as the first/left element even though full navigation is always available?

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Useful post about back buttons, specifically aimed at mobile apps that has some good answers: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/7216/… –  JonW Jan 25 '12 at 17:20
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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'm gonna have to say my answer is a big "no" to this. Check out the images at the top of this post showing a bunch of browser chrome/ device images: http://24ways.org/2011/raising-the-bar-on-mobile

Notice anything? They ALL have a back button - either hardware or software. Back on the web is a familiar action on the web - users know how to do it and expect it to work properly. This may be why the back button is also the most used button on desktop browsers (hence FF making it much larger than the forward button).

The second argument I'd make against this is that you don't know the context of how the website will be viewed. On iOS many apps (twitter apps are the prominent example that comes to mind) have embedded webviews with chrome of their own with a back button at the top. Stacked back like that gets to be pretty clunky and not finger-friendly, but then you also have the added complexity of two buttons in proximity that do very different things (back to the stream or browser back).

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"Back" button is standard in all browsers including "feature phones". There's no need to create an extra dynamic link for it (don't forget that with 4 pages you have quite a few potential navigation paths).

Your navigation bar should only have the top-level items and the link to the homepage. I wouldn't recommend using a logo instead of Home on mobile sites because the image is likely to take up more space or be of very low quality. Moreover, some users may not understand or realize it's clickable (there's no hover state on most mobile devices).

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I believe the PC term is "dumb phones" :) –  Ben Brocka Jan 25 '12 at 15:31
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Screen real estate is a precious thing on small screens, so you need to prioritize. The other answers are correct when they say that the browser already provides a method to get back. It's also important to note that often times back buttons are included to mimic native iOS conventions, which should be avoided on the web.

However, I've been in usability tests on a mobile site that included a (non-native looking) back button in the top left and much to my surprise, most of the users (not just iPhone users either) clicked on that in order to get back. I can't really explain why users behaved this way, but it's worth noting.

So while it probably should be avoided in this case (4 links is already a crowd), there are potential benefits of including a (non-native looking) back button.

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I've seen similar "why are users doing that?" on desktop web apps I created years ago for a call center. I know what you're talking about when you echo that observation. Thanks! –  JamesEggers Jan 25 '12 at 16:37
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