I'm currently building the interface of an Android Tablet digital restaurant menu. The user is going to be able to navigate between categories and dishes lists and navigate back as well. I'm finding very difficult to position the universal back button (which is going to appear in every screen apart from the root menu).

Here are the options that came up to my mind: Interface schematics

The "I" is the first that I thought about, which seems pretty obvious. But after some testing, I concluded this design does not fit very well with the tablet's shape and the way people usually hold it. To make it easy to press, I also need to make it bigger and waste a lot of room at the header...

"II" and "III" was suggested by a friend of mine, and it sounds really nice, except that it may make some people confused as it is invading the content area (I must remind that this is intended for a very wide audience, which included people with almost no knowledge of touchscreen systems)

"IV" and "V" are good, but I don't really know how bad it is that the back button is mixed with the menu buttons (like "about" and "call waiter"), maybe someone can confirm that for me.

Are there any good objective reasons to go with any of these options, or are there any other options not considered here?

  • Related/possible duplicate: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/21464/…
    – GotDibbs
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 14:29
  • 2
    To clarify, the typical android "soft buttons" are NOT (reasonably) accessible on this device?
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 14:56
  • I can't rely on the soft buttons because most of the tablets we are going to use are not very intuitive like the one I posted before... many users may think that button is only some kind of ornament, I guess
    – arvere
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 21:09
  • I'd include that reasoning into your question; with Android it's easy to cry "use the standard back button", but in your case A) it's not the user's device, so no getting familiar with it and B) yeah, the physical buttons on that tablet you showed are pretty terrible
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 17:09

4 Answers 4


Actually Android applications should not have an On-Screen back button since they have Off-Screen back buttons by default which should be utilized to cover this feature.

enter image description here

There are applications that choose to in addition to the off-screen back button also have an on-screen back button, Instagram is (or was) one example. This however is wrong when considering the conventional Android application design pattern.

If it was an Apple product now that would be a whole other story.

  • Thank you for your answer, but as I told before: my users may have no knowledge in touchscreen systems (android or ios), thus making the patterns and user guidelines not so valid. Also, we may be using tablets like this one, with a non-intuitive back button cobyusa.com/images/products/MID7015_M.jpg
    – arvere
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 13:17
  • oh, well, that's unfortunate. Commented May 22, 2012 at 13:30
  • 1
    @gustavofritsch I still think this is a training issue. The user's are still going to have to "learn" your app. I would think that if you're not sure if they'll get it, you can provide an introductory wizard on the first run of your application to train on the issue.
    – GotDibbs
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 14:26
  • 3
    @GotDibbs I agree, guidelines are there to help. I mean, is it a legitimate reason to break conventions just because you assume that a user is unaware of them? I would however agree with the OP that the back button of the device is very unintuitive, which could pose a problem if only relying on it to go back. Commented May 22, 2012 at 14:44

Assuming your target audience is incredibly transient and the majority of your users will only use this single application on the device, then there are some affordances you can make to improve the default experience of the device's soft back button.

First and foremost, I would recommend ensuring that the soft back button does work as well as whatever UI you end up implementing. As the soft button is the OS' standard, it will be confusing if the button doesn't behave as expected.

With these assumptions and considerations in play, I would recommend that you go with your initial suggestion aka option "I". You can see this previous answer on back button placement for reasoning why to place it in the top left corner of the device.

Another suggestion I would add is to possibly implement the swipe effect in the application so that users can swipe backwards to navigate to the previous "page" of the application. Swiping is incredibly intuitive so to have it as an option in this scenario I think would be a great plus.


I admit I'm originally pretty much in favor of your first proposal, having the button the top-left as it is very common. However, on a 7" tablet, the user will have to lift the arm to press the BACK button, or change the hand holding the tablet to the right hand.

So, one strategy would be to place the BACK button where the (left) thumb is most likely to be, so that the users don't have to move their hands. Especially if they tend to hold the tablet like a book (or a menu booklet).

For this, I would suggest 2 solutions.

For the first solution, the BACK button would be placed on the left side, similarly to the hard buttons on the Kindle to change the pages for example.

On the side

However, it might not be ideal depending on how the content is presented and how thick you can get that button. It would match this scenario of hands position:

Hands on the side

Second solution would be to place the BACK button at the bottom left, as you suggested. At the bottom left, splitting the bottom bar

If you are worried that it mixes up with some other buttons like the Call Waiter button or About, then you may just split the bottom bar into two parts. Or just move the Call Waiter button to the top-right for instance. Putting the Call Waiter button in the top right would also translate nicely to the reality where you raise your hand to call the waiter, and relieves you from the mixing up problem. It would match this scenario of hands position:

Hands at the bottom

In any case, if you have the standard "soft" button, it should have the same behavior as the one you add in your application. Also, note that these soft buttons will disappear on new Android devices and replaced by software buttons, according to the latest specs that Google released. I'm not sure what is the exact strategy behind it and if these software buttons will be customizable/overridable, but to my understanding, they will be fixed and can be hidden for fullscreen apps. You may consider this when deploying your app.

I hope this helps.


Two finger tap anywhere

Take a look at Flipboard for inspiration. When inside an article they support the system default back button if that is iOS's top left back or done button or I believe Android's soft button but they also allow the user to do a two finger tap anywhere to go back. This is ideal because when using a tablet interface the user's hands could be anywhere. I end up using both my thumbs to perform this gesture and it works very well.

  • I believe this can be very convenient, but as an alternative. Gustavofristch preferred not to rely on the "soft" back button of the device because it is not intuitive enough for his audience, so I think his audience are not likely to discover the double-tap...
    – Padrig
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 6:20
  • 1
    @Padrig I would think some simple coach marks would solve that hopefully. Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 13:03

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