No, the Floating Action Button is NOT Bad User Experience

Material Design’s iconic Floating Action Button pattern has been receiving a lot of flak as of late, with numerous concerns arising around its supposed effect of hampering an app’s user experience. Contrary to the aforementioned claims, I opine that the pattern simply oozes awesomeness, and this post addresses all the concerns and ill-claims made around my beloved FAB.

“And because of the bold visual style of Material Design, FABs are strikingly hard to ignore and stand out — and herein lies the problem.”

That’s precisely the point of a Floating Action Button. Given that the iconic pattern is used correctly, it isn’t meant to be ignored — it’s meant to stand out and be instantly identifiable and accessible. Marissa Mayer, in her approach to app design, states that “her people design a product for the way it will be used 98% of the time.” She believes that in every good product, there should be a big button like the Floating Action Button for the 98% use case, where if the user clicks it or taps it, they get a delightful, fluid and simple experience without having to jump through a dozen hoops to get to their most used action.
I stress on the fact the Floating Action Button is a double edged sword — it needs to be used correctly and with the utmost care, and if it is, it definitely does not prove detrimental to the user experience.

“If you look at the screenshot of the Photos app, you’ll realise that the search FAB blocks around 50% of an image thumbnail — definitely large enough to cover a face or two.”

Reading this, I thought to myself — and confirmed my thoughts with a few more users — do I really look at the bottom of the screen? I’m not defending the use of a FAB for Search, despite the fact that I find it useful, but when I’m browsing through photos or any other content for that matter, I certainly don’t scan each row one by one, instead opting to scroll when I reach the lower third of the screen, and as such, the Floating Action Button doesn’t really blocks anything important. That said, the article also brings up the issue of it blocking the bottom right corner of the list, but surely that can be addressed by adding an empty row to the bottom!

“The Gmail app’s FAB is the compose button, suggesting that the primary action users perform is to create an email. But is that true? Multiple studies have shown that at least 50% of emails are now read on a mobile device, but little to none show the same shift in terms of -composing emails”

A sentence like this makes one infer that the article is written without truly thinking the average user flow through, and doesn’t address real world use cases. I concur, statistics show that a large volume of emails are read on mobile devices, however, when I receive an email, I get a push notification that acts as a call-to-action to open the email app, wherein I directly land on the email’s page, skipping the landing page entirely. I also concur that sometimes notifications are swiped away, but the probability of an important email being swiped away is low, and if I’m going through the process of opening the email app from the launcher, the probability of my intentions being to compose an email is significantly higher than that of reading an email, keeping the aforementioned point in mind.

“When FABs result in diminished UX most of the time, when it’s hard to figure out the single most-used action within an app, and when roundabout methods need to be explored (like an FAB that disappears when scrolled, or lists with differently positioned elements), I’d say the answer is a pretty resounding no”

A Floating Button that hides on scroll is not a roundabout method per se. Used correctly, the button isn’t only not blocking anything since it’s the most used action, but it’s also giving the user the freedom to make their choice. Google+ pulls this off excellently, showing the button when the user is engaging with the stream, and hiding it when that engagement is reversed. Don’t think of it as disappearing and appearing, think of it as two separate states — when you’re engaging with your social stream, your primary action is to scroll, hence there’s no Floating Action Button, and when you’re not engaging with your social stream, your primary action is to post, and voila, it’s back.

In conclusion, I’d say yes, given 98% rule, Floating Action Buttons play a rather important role in the user flow, simplifying the entire process and used correctly, they can be an astoundingly helpful pattern for the end-user without blocking or hampering the experience.

User Experience Design is a discipline of statistics, perception, psychology, testing and iteration. Every decision made is a compound result of multiple factors, and as such, it is semi-viral misleading articles that prove more detrimental to a product’s experience than Floating Action Buttons. Developers and designers — you know your product like nobody else does. If you truly think it needs a FAB — use a FAB, but use it wisely.