Android’s Navigation Drawer pattern fits my needs pretty well for primary navigation. My app includes several child applications. Within child applications there are several tabs and the user can open additional tabs.

navigation drawer application 1

Our current design is to use a different pattern for secondary navigation.


Within a tab a user can open a form. How can the user leave the form?


User is in Application 1 / Main Tab 1 / Form - Step 2

I want to have solutions for these use cases:

  1. Search for additional information ->
    Switch to application 2 (possible through navigation drawer) ->
    Later: Switch back to Main Tab 1 and continue form
  2. Cancel task ->
    Go back to Main Tab 1 (possible through navigation drawer)
  3. Go back to step 1 ->
    Usually possible by a back button (only possible on Android)

Solution I’m not happy with

Replace the navigation drawer with a back button would be possible, but this would prohibit #1 and #2.

2 Answers 2


This is a tough question to answer without really getting deep into your app, but I'll take a crack.

Be consistent with primary wayfinding

I think Google has done a nice job with the hamburger-becomes-back approach. It still makes me nervous.

The "menu" button on mobile (whatever form it takes) is about exposing a higher level of navigation. This is most often the overarching structure of your app, superseding where the user happens to be at the moment. Hiding access to this hierarchy feels like a risky move.

Forcing the user to step back out of whatever they are doing to get to the menu is something I avoid wherever possible.

Keep current state navigation in view

Within a view or sub-area of the app, there is context, things that exist solely in that view. Be sure that the user is aware of their place in this context and has a quick path back to wherever their flow may necessitate.

For your use cases 2 and 3, some form of breadcrumb or progress indicator seems like a very sensible navigation metaphor. If that eats up too much real estate, it can slide off screen when scrolling down and slide back in on scroll up.

Save progress whenever possible

When you have a task flow that is likely to be stepped out of at some point, save the user's progress automatically and visibly. This will give the user confidence when the time comes to step away.

For your use case 1, persistent access to the main menu nav will allow them to jump to search or another sub-area as needed. Then switching back to App 1 should recall their position in that view and the state of the form they were working on.

Rainbows and unicorns

Of course, this is all perfect world stuff. You can't always save everything. And you can't predict every possible user flow. When compromises are necessary, just be certain the points of access in your app are consistent. Providing the user with as much recognition over recall as possible will also ease their path to recovery.


For large applications like the one you are describing, I have seen a hybrid approach to navigation - navigation drawer AND drill down/back tree like navigation.

You can use the drawer to navigate between the large sections of your app (the applications). Each application would have a "root" or "home". The hamburger menu icon would only be shown at this root/home level. Once the user drives into a child view of an application, the hamburger menu icon would become a back icon. Once the user comes back to the application's root/home, the hamburger icon would show back up and give them access to the navigation drawer.

This style is fairly constraining, but the benefit is that the user shouldn't get as lost/confused with the navigation. There is really only ever one option to choose from.

You can really replace the forward/back navigation with whatever secondary navigation you like best. The main idea with this approach is to have the navigation drawer always preform the simple task of switching between applications (and nothing else), and to have your secondary navigation (forward/back, drop down menu, tabs, etc) do their simple task.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.