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I'm designing a web app specifically for all tablet traffic. I'm going with the very popular left side panel navigation like youtube,fb etc. The icon to open/close the navigation is the standard icon and there is only a logo and a search icon/dropdown on the top navigation.

Is it best practice to default open the side navigation on first page view on the site? This will cover about 25% of the landingpage/homepage, which isn't ideal. I'm scared if I don't default open, an inexperienced user will not know how to open the side menu.

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Is it 'popular' because developers keep building it, or 'popular' because users like it? –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Feb 13 '13 at 16:56
    
Because it's trendy –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 18:02
    
If by 'trendy' you mean 'irritating beyond belief', ok I'll agree with that. ;) –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Feb 13 '13 at 18:49
    
Why do you think so? They are practical, they allow more options in a menu without dropdowns available and they allow menu views without changing pages. –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 19:50

2 Answers 2

Starting your app with the side panel open is generally a bad idea. You will firstly create a poor first experience where you bombard people with all the choices in there rather than providing them with a meaningful first page focused on content. Secondly, if you simply show this, it doesn't let people know how it was opened in the first place. If they can work that out, then they could have worked it out without it being open the first time.

There is an element of discovery in every great app. Let people find some things themselves, but by leaving generous clues. That way, they will not only recall whatever it is that they found, but they will have a sense that they worked it out.

That all said, if testing shows that your customers really don't know what it does, you can add a hint box at the start that users can dismiss. Youtube does something like this on their website, but the same could easily apply to a mobile app.

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after usability testing, people had no idea to click the menu icon to access a popular page that used to just be in the horizontal navigation. –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 6:52
    
@user26071 Who were you doing the testing on? Many common apps use this now. Also, if you are having issues with that, maybe you need to consider a first experience screen which points out what each button does. –  JohnGB Feb 13 '13 at 14:16
    
Testing it on non-tablet users. Yes, I think I'll label the menu icon maybe for the first couple months. –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 15:44
    
@user26071: you don't expect any new users after the first couple of months then? –  Marjan Venema Feb 13 '13 at 18:44
    
Of course, but it will be enough data to test and see the decline of remove an icon label. –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 19:51

I have recently tested an app that left the side navigation open and watched user after user scrolling across to read more of the screen without knowing they could close the navigation. These were a mix of advanced and intermediate iPad users and some didn't understand the icon would provide them with navigation because they weren't heavy social media users.

It can very much depend on who the user group is and how exposed they are to social media apps - which seem to be pioneering the navigation icon.

You could always use a label instead of an icon if you are really concerned. People will find the navigation eventually, but it depends on how killer your app is and how much time they have or want to spend discovering the app in a highly competitive space.

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It's not an app, it's the tablet version of a very popular website. So I'm not sure how "smart" our users will be. I'm leaning towards labeling the icon to make it more apparent how to access the nav. –  user26071 Feb 13 '13 at 15:43
    
Sounds like a good call - it won't break the experience and may be a bit more intuitive for people who haven't encountered that icon. Good luck with it. –  Rachel Feb 13 '13 at 16:55

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