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I have a mobile Android application that allows users to specify through a form the layout of elements displayed to the screen. The user can also preview the customized layout in full-screen. However, use of the back button (soft key) is unavailable, and a navigational header adds clutter. Is there a clean, intuitive approach to respond to user input in order to exit the preview?

I have considered adding a button as well as tap to exit approach. A button is not very desirable because it adds clutter. In addition, the button may be assumed to be part of the preview. Allowing the user to tap to exit is okay, but I find the approach to be susceptible to accidental touches and not immediately intuitive to a user. Responding to multiple touches in a period of time is not a terrible approach; i.e. double tap.

  • Why is the back button not available? It seems to be the logical choice, so you may try if you can fix this if possible. – allo Jul 11 at 14:33
  • @allo The back button in newer android devices (the target device) is part of the device's screen. Devices such as the Galaxy S10 or Galaxy Note9 feature a similar back button. Since the button is part of the UI, it is hidden behind the application and the full-screen preview. – Kurt Harrison Jul 11 at 14:39
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Tap to exit is probably sufficient, but there are many options and only one way to know for sure.

Most preview modes are non-interactive, so tap to exit works pretty well. It may not be the most intuitive, but unless the user suddenly becomes completely passive at that point they will touch the screen eventually and end the preview.

However, if your use case involves scrolling the preview around a lot, it could be too easy to dismiss by accident. In small doses this is probably not a substantial risk (if users don't preview things that often, or they don't have to scroll that far each time) but if the preview is a mile long and they really want to see what's at the bottom, a double-tap or long tap might be another viable option since it's less likely to occur by accident.

None of these options is really that discoverable, and if a user's attention wanders and they forget that they are looking at a preview and not the real thing you might want a message or a button informing them of preview mode and how to exit. The upside here is that it also serves as a great interaction focus for ending the preview when they are ready. If you don't want to cover up part of the preview, you can integrate it into the content that is being shown in the elements they customized.

User testing will get you more definitive answers.

We can speculate all day and offer other interactions, but the only way to be sure is to have real people try it in the real world. Something that seems good on paper could be confusing or worse when someone actually tries it. You might be over thinking the problem and everyone taps to exit without even thinking about it.

Because this is a narrow interaction, it probably doesn't need to be the focus of its own test. You could create a test where the last task is to try the preview mode and then ask them to exit it. Watch what they do. If most people try tapping or swiping or start looking for an exit button, there is your answer.

If there isn't a consensus, or if you want to do something different from what users intuitively wanted, you'll need to explain how to exit in the UI and can refer to some of the suggestions above.

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First of all, what you are trying to do really intersting. Kudos. Now, I could think of some solutions.

  • A floating button for closing the preview. I would not prefer it as it is a cluttery solution.

  • A 'tap to exit preview' notification. You could tell user at the start through toast or dialog that to exit the preview they need to tap on the notification icon. However some user can disable notification. So not my top pick as well.

  • Periodic Dialogs. Ask the user periodically how much time they need to evaluate. And keep asking that until the user is ready to close. You could also show the dialog after certain seconds of inactivity. You could also combine this with the strategy just above.

If you have time and resource you could do usability testing on any combination of the above strategies.

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I can see how tapping to exit could be confusing or how to might not want to cover the preview with a control.

A good way to deal with this is to have an "exit preview" control (button or icon) that appears on tap. Once this control appears,

  • If the user then taps that button, exit preview

  • If the user taps elsewhere instead, or if they don't tap anything for a reasonable amount of time (5 seconds? 10 seconds?) then make the control disappear.

Then there are things like double tap, or long press, but these have discoverability problems and you can end up with a user stuck on the preview screen and not knowing how to exit other than quitting your app. You probably don't want that. Having something visible happen on tap gives you more of a chance that it'll be discovered.

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