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In March 2016, Google updated Material Design to add bottom navigation bars to its UI library. This new bar is positioned at the bottom of an app, and contains 3 to 5 icons that allow users to navigate between top-level views in an app.

Sound familiar? That’s because bottom navigation bars have been a part of iOS’s UI library for years (they’re called tab bars in iOS).

Bottom navigation bars are a better alternative to the hamburger menu, so their addition into Material Design should be good news. But Google’s version of bottom navigation bars has a serious problem: mystery meat navigation .

Whether you’re an Android user, designer, or developer, this should trouble you.

What’s mystery meat navigation, and why’s it sobad?

Mystery meat navigation is a term coined in 1998 by Vincent Flanders of the famous website Web Pages That Suck . It refers to buttons or links that don’t explain to you what they do. Instead, you have to click on them to find out.

(The term “mystery meat” originates from the meat served in American public school cafeterias that were so processed that the type of animal they came from is no longer discernible.)

Mystery meat navigation is the hallmark of designs that prioritize form over function. It’s bad UX design, because it emphasizes aesthetics at the cost of user experience. It adds cognitive load to navigational tasks, since users have to guess what the button does. And if your users need to guess, you’re doing it wrong.

You wouldn’t want to eat mystery meat—similarly, users wouldn’t want to click on mystery buttons.

Strike 1: Android Lollipop’s Navigation Bar

Material Design’s first major mystery meat navigation problem happened in 2014 with Android Lollipop.

Android Lollipop was introduced in the same conference that debuted Material Design, and sports a redesigned UI to match Google’s new design language.

One of the UI elements that got redesigned was the navigation bar, the persistent bar at the bottom of Android OS that provides navigation control for phones without hardware buttons for Back, Home and Menu.

In Android Lollipop, the navigation bar was redesigned to this:

See the problem?

While the previous design is less aesthetically appealing, it’s more or less straightforward. The Back and Home icons can be understood without the need for text labels. The 3rd icon is a bit of a mystery meat, but on the whole, the UX of the old navigation bar wasn’t too bad.

The new bar, on the other hand, is pretty. The equilateral triangle, circle, and square are symbols of geometric perfection. But it’s also user-unfriendly. It’s abstract—and navigation controls should never be abstract. It’s full-blown mystery meat navigation.

The triangle icon might resemble a “Back” arrow, but what does a circle and a square mean in relation to navigation control?

Strike 2: Floating ActionButtons

Floating action buttons are special buttons that appear above other UI elements in an app. Ideally, they’re used to promote the primary action of the app.

Floating action buttons also suffer from the mystery meat navigation problem. By design, the floating action button is a circle containing an icon. It’s a pure-icon button, with no room for text labels.

The truth is that icons are incredibly hard to understand because they’re so open to interpretation. Our culture and past experiences inform how we interpret icons. Unfortunately, designers (especially, it seems, Material designers) have a hard time facing this truth.

Need proof that icon-only buttons are a bad idea? Let’s play a guessing game.

Below is a list of what—according to Material Design’s guidelines —are acceptable icons for floating action buttons. Can you guess what each button does?

Ok, that’s a simple one to warm you up. It represents “Directions”.

What about this? If you’re an iOS or Mac user, you might say “Safari.” It actually represents “Explore.”

Things are getting fun (or frustrating) now! Could this be “Open in contacts”? “Help, there’s someone following me”? Perhaps this is a button for your “Phone a friend” lifeline.

Hang on, is the button for “Open in contacts.” Right? Or is this “Gossip about a friend” since the person is inside a speech bubble?

Ready for the final round? Here’s the worst (and most used) icon:

You might think the “+” button is rather simple to understand—it’s obviously a button for the “Add” action. But add ?

that’s the problem right there. If a user needs to ask that question, your button is officially mystery meat. Sadly, developers and designers of Material Design apps seem to be in love with the “+” floating action button.

Precisely because the “+” button so easy to understand, it ends up being the most abused icon for floating action buttons. Consider how Google’s own Inbox app displays buttons when you tap the “+” floating button, which is not what a user would expect:

What makes things worse is how the same icons have different meanings in different apps. Google used the pencil icon to represent “Compose” in Inbox and Gmail, but used it to represent “Edit” in its photo app Snapseed.

The floating action button was intended to be a great way for users to access a primary action. Except it isn’t, because icon-only buttons tend to be mystery meat.

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Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time

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, pages 546 549 (16 June 1994) | Download Citation

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STUDIES from sites around the world have provided evidence for anomalous climate conditions persisting for several hundred years before about AD 1300. Early workers emphasized the temperature increase that marked this period in the British Isles, coining the terms 'Mediaeval Warm Epoch' and 'Little Climatic Optimum', but many sites seem to have experienced equally important hydrological changes. Here I present a study of relict tree stumps rooted in present-day lakes, marshes and streams, which suggests that California's Sierra Nevada experienced extremely severe drought conditions for more than two centuries before ad 1112 and for more than 140 years before ad 1350. During these periods, runoff from the Sierra was significantly lower than during any of the persistent droughts that have occurred in the region over the past 140 years. I also present similar evidence from Patagonia of drought conditions coinciding with at least the first of these dry periods in California. I suggest that the droughts may have been caused by reorientation of the mid-latitude storm tracks, owing to a general contraction of the circumpolar vortices and/or a change in the position of the vortex waves. If this reorientation was caused by mediaeval warming, future natural or anthropogenically induced warming may cause a recurrence of the extreme drought conditions.

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says:
September 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

@paraclete_pizza:disqus My father was born slightly left-of-center, art-inclined andambivalentabout his catholic faith and has remained thus for the entirety of his sixty-eight years.

says:
September 7, 2012 at 2:19 pm

That seems to happen a lot with old hippies. They get a career, a house and some money in the bank, and suddenly they have an opinion on the capital gains tax.

says:
September 8, 2012 at 12:20 am

@George_Liquor:disqus : The Century of Self is an amazing documentary that puts forth a pretty convincing argument for how the same generation that comprised the radical 60s went on to vote for Reagan twice in the 80s.

says:
September 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

When my brother and I first got into gaming, my Dad would play with us, and kick our asses. He was the one who discovered the first warp zone in Super Mario Bros. We were all kind of blown away.

He lost interest once we moved on to more complex games, but he came back around with Wii Sports

says:
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The funny thing is my dad really isn’t into gaming. But he did introduce me to Commander Keen and Prince of Persia . (I still remember my 5-year-old self referring to enemies in the latter as “killies.”) If it weren’t for that, I doubt I’d be into video games today.

says:
September 7, 2012 at 10:28 am

So not a Dad, per se, as she was my Mom, but we used to play the old original SNES Mario Kart together and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. For my tenth birthday I was taken to an arcade and told I could pick any one game and we’d beat it, no matter how many quarters it took. I picked the Simpsons arcade game and by the time we reached the final level (must’ve been $40 worth of quarters in) I realized that everyone else at the arcade had gathered around to watch as no one had gotten that far in the game yet, and they wanted to see what the final boss was. After we’d won, I was surprised to see that her high score was higher than mine.

Much to my delight her love of video games continued even after I’d left for college as she purchased a Wii all on her own to play Animal Crossing: City Folk and Harvest Moon.

And don’t get me started on my Everquest playing Grandmother…

says:
September 7, 2012 at 11:23 am

I would like to start you on about your Everquest-playing grandmother, please.

says:
September 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

My father is, if possible, even lesscompetitivethan me. He never played video games, nor sports, nor tabletop, card or board games. He lives in some pastel-colored aether free of the compulsion to tangle in such aterrestrial, animal way. Though once in a valiant effort to understand my hobby, he played a round of Under Armour Womens UA SpeedForm Apollo Running Shoes Shopping Online With Mastercard Fast Express C5Vli
. I think it was just as strange and disconcerting for me to see my father wield a NES controller as it was for him to attempt that seemingly arbitrary strobe ofaggressivebleeps and blorps.

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