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I'm working on an Android application with an information architecture consisted from about 3 levels deep.

Assume the following IA:

  • Home
    • Nav Option A
      • Sub Level A.1
      • Sub Level A.2
      • Sub Level A.3
    • Nav Option B
      • Sub Level B.1
      • Sub Level B.2
      • Sub Level B.3
        • Really Deep Option B.3.1
        • Really Deep Option B.3.2

Does using a tab bar for navigation in all levels contradict my IA? Will it confuse the user to navigate with the same method (tabs) in all application screens, as he/she moves to a deeper level in the application?

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Looking at your hierarchy tree I'd say that it could be easily transfered over to a similar hierarchy that is used in the Google Play app.

  • There you have a Home with in line entry points to the Main areas (Eg. Apps, Games, Music, etc..).
  • Under each Main area you have tabs to list content within that area in different fashions (Eg. Categories, Best sellers, Most popular, etc).
  • Even deeper drilling down in the content presents the user with simple list views, one level deeper than the Main area (Eg. New and updated, Practical apps, Apps for customization, etc), with a Up link in the action bar to let the user go back to the Main area main view.

So in short if you set up the level relation correctly and apply the correct navigation strategy (that is, not let every level be composed by a tab view) you will go along with Android design guidelines for your IA.

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    Thanks, I've checked the Google Play app. It uses tab bar in deeper levels without any problem as you said. Will vote up your answer once I reach 15 points :) – Abdurrahman Oct 28 '14 at 14:54
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dThe first rule of navigation is that when you hide information, its usability declines precipitously. This rule becomes exaggerated when we are talking about navigation clicks (mobile) as opposed to hovers (desktop).

So the TL;DR version is - no it's not a very good idea in most cases.

Let's start easy - where is it okay to have deep nesting, even in mobile? A nested nav is great if you know exactly what you want, and you can make them pretty damn fancy too. For example, if I know that I want a men's white crew neck tee in medium, the menu tree is great. Thousands of hours of Internet fluency have taught me to shop > mens > tops > tees. I don't even have to look.

What if I'm shopping for a Christmas present for a 12 year old girl though?

Now it's useless, which is why top shopping sites offer an exploratory "filter" based navigation system in addition to this one. In fact, I'd guess it would be downright frustrating to browse the shop in that way when my goal changes.

That's the sort of thing we need to predict effectively when designing a web canvas. When a user changes their reasons (or their use case), suddenly large parts of the design may stop being efficient.

"But Ian", you say, "Do you REALLY expect me to put all of this stuff on ONE MENU LEVEL?"

No, friend. That would be chaos. I expect designers to know their users though! The art in user experience design is knowing how to cut out 80% of your interface while still retaining navigational clarity.

Does your site require a nested multi-level menu, or can we simplify using multiple internal hubs with rich exploratory tools?

Avoid the old menu pattern unless you know for a fact that it's what your users expect, most need, and desire. If you aren't sure, watch them use your site and ask about it. Users love to talk. Want to get really tricky? Repeat the exercise while having them do tasks on your competitor's sites.

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