I’m working on a medical iOS app for university. Our users are usually 55+ years. I’m currently struggling with the navigation flow of the app. We basically have two states, pre and post-surgery. Both states share some content but mostly have different content. I thought about using “tab bar” with changing tab bar items. So the first two tab bar items are constant, but item 3 to 5 are changing depending on the state. (The state usually only changes once) How bad is it to change the tab bar items in terms of user experience, especially for old not to experienced users? I also thought about onboarding after the state changed, to teach the ui changes.

In general:

How do you usually handle navigation for apps with two states and mostly different content:

State 1:

  • Content Category A
  • Content Category B
  • Content Category C
  • Content Category D
  • Content Category E

State 2:

  • Content Category A
  • Content Category B
  • Content Category F
  • Content Category G
  • Content Category H

States share category A and B, but differ with C,D,E,F,G,H

Thanks in advance :)

I can't share something real, but here an example. The state changes once after a specific event and two menu icons change as long with some content on the home / control / overview screen enter image description here

  • can you post a screenshot of your current solutions?
    – Nicolas
    Nov 8, 2018 at 20:11
  • @NicolasHung I added a screenshot that illustrates what I want to do
    – DΦC__WTF
    Nov 8, 2018 at 21:10
  • What is the nature of the content being changed? Are we talking about images, text, attached files? And why can't the user see CDE after FGH are introduced? Also, is FGH a different state of CDE? Or is FGH completely different content from CDE? Talking in more specific terms would help (what information are CDE and FGH exactly?)
    – Nicolas
    Nov 8, 2018 at 22:11
  • The content changes because the user needs different information and functionality before and after the surgery. We are not only talking about videos, images and text also about functionalities like e.g. a checklist that is only needed in one of two states. Please ignore the A-H from the question and focus on the screenshot. In state A we will show content A and B which will be replaced in state B by Content C and D. How confusing is it for a user that he will find on the home screen C and D and not A and B anymore?
    – DΦC__WTF
    Nov 8, 2018 at 22:25
  • I think if the app is supposed to be organized in a pre/post fashion, meaning following a timeline, every point in the journey should be available at all times, even if they are irrelevant at the moment. Also, swapping AB with CD changes the navigation, which is a major no-no for usability. Users expect consistency and love to be in control. May be they want information from AB later on but can't access it or spend extra time searching for it afterwards without realizing it simply disappeared.
    – Nicolas
    Nov 8, 2018 at 22:42

2 Answers 2


One potential solution could be tabbed content/navigation.

What can help clarify the change of states is visible (though can be inactive) indications of both navigations/options that are available to the user.

This makes the switch more natural, something actively changes in the UI for the user to notice and if for whatever reason you need both content categories available (for any scenario) they will be.

A (very crude) example below: enter image description here

  • 1
    Thanks a lot, unfortunately the user is not allowed to switch states. E.g. the first 4 weeks the app will be in state a and then transition to state b. So the question is, how bad is it for a user if the ui and navigation changes at some point
    – DΦC__WTF
    Nov 8, 2018 at 21:45
  • Ideally you want the user to be aware of the changes in content navigation. Let's say that those tabs are called "Pre surgery" and "Post surgery" with each being disabled based on the treatment the user had. This still provides some helpful pointers that the user's "state" has changed and so has the content. Nov 9, 2018 at 16:06
  • 1
    Sounds right, If I can't find a solution without states and changing content, I will add this indicator :). How would it be to use onboarding after the change to tell the user what changed?
    – DΦC__WTF
    Nov 9, 2018 at 16:14

So, following my comment of keeping a consistent navigation across the website:

Keep the app's main navigation to the main sections of the app.

  • Don't confuse main with local navigation. Location navigation is navigation within a main section.

  • In the screen shot below, the bottom bar with Home, Question Mark, Other, Other should be consistent across the app. "Other" could be appointments or Account Details, for example.

  • Local Navigation are navigation items within a main section. So the listing of surgeries, as well as the ABCD sections within each surgery are considered local navigation.

  • As for ABCD, like I mentioned before, list out all the steps involved in the surgery and map it like a timeline for easy understanding. For steps that are not yet available, clearly label it (e.g."not available at this moment"). You could also show a date of expected availability as well as sending an SMS or phone notification when they become available.

Considerations for Older Audiences

Other Navigation Considerations

  • Since you mentioned ABCD all have different content and features under them, I would recommend limiting how much you show in each screen. For example, screen 2 has to be simple, giving global info about the surgery and asking the patient to choose one of the section they desire.

  • I don't know how complex your hierarchical sections are, but you can either take the user through a series of menu screens, or integrate all those options into #2 while expanding the respective section's area. For example, making a larger Label A Box and simply list all the sub-screens in it.

  • Make sure to have a noticeable Back button on the screens.

  • Consider labeling all icons. Even "Home" and "Help" icons might not be intuitive for older audiences.

enter image description here


  • Without knowing much of the rest of the application, it also seemed like your main navigation could be completely removed, so the user starts from a listing of surgeries and simply picks one to view more details.

enter image description here

  • but what would you do if you have to many main navigation section for a tab bar, especially for older users and the need of large touch targets and so on... Thanks a lot for all your feedback!
    – DΦC__WTF
    Nov 9, 2018 at 16:13
  • If you have too many main nav sections in the tab bar, it indicates that the tab bar is not the best solution for it, since it is not meant to be used that way. You can consider putting all those options in the screen itself in tiles, for example - capture-education.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/…
    – Nicolas
    Nov 9, 2018 at 16:30

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