6 tips for mastering navigation on an Android or iOS device

Don’t feel dumb if you’re sometimes flummoxed by the navigation in an iPhone or Android app, or even within iOS or Android itself. It happens to the best of us. You’re happily tapping around when, quite suddenly, you reach a dead end. Maybe you’re trying to find the Settings menu, or you want to change the font on a message. Maybe you just want to go back where you came from. But there’s no obvious way to do it.

The sleek, minimalist designs of the Android and iOS ecosystems, while certainly attractive, are notoriously tricky to navigate. But there’s a method to the madness, and knowing how common buttons and visual cues function in Android and iOS will make it much easier to achieve your goals.

1. Take a bite from the ‘hamburger’

You’re digging around an app looking for something resembling the main menu—a place where you might find the Settings, your account information, document folders, or help. The answer lies in a three-line button that’s typically (but not always) sitting in a top corner of the screen.

Ben Patterson

You’ll typically find the hamburger sitting in the top-left corner of an app’s main interface, but there are plenty of exceptions.

The button looks a bit like an abstract hamburger—and indeed, it’s called the “hamburger” in app-development circles. Generally speaking, tapping the hamburger opens a drawer from the side of the screen with all your main menu and navigation items, making it a great place to start if you’re looking for, say, your Gmail conversation labels, or your Recent items in Google Docs.

While the hamburger typically sits in the top-left corner of an app’s main interface, there are plenty of exceptions. One notable example is the Facebook app for Android and iOS, which has (confusingly) two hamburger buttons: one which opens the chat sidebar, and another which opens the standard drawer full of news-feed filters, privacy options, app settings, and so on.

If you tap the hamburger button but don’t find what you need, there’s another menu you can try…

2. Peek into the ‘overflow’ menu

I tend to call the hamburger’s little brother the “three-dot” button—that is, the button with a stack of three dots that usually sits opposite the hamburger, or perhaps in a corner all by itself.

This three-dot button is actually called the “overflow” button—or, to be even more precise, the “action overflow” button. Tap it, and you’ll find a series of options that didn’t merit a spot on the main interface. Think “more,” and you’ve got the general idea.

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