Home Page, Profile Page, or Dashboard?
Home Pages, Profile Pages, and Dashboards are often mistakenly used interchangeably in mobile app design. As mobile apps offer more and more functions in one place, having some kind of macro page for users to return to is crucial for ease of navigation. So, how do we decide whether it should be a Home Page, a Profile Page, or a Dashboard? These three types of base pages all provide macro levels of insight for users, but they answer very different questions:
Where can I go from here? Where is this thing I'm looking for?
How do I look? Who is this person?
What's happening? Is that good or bad?
As with all user-centered design choices, the answer lies in the purpose the page serves in meeting a users' needs. We can ensure users are able to intuitively navigate our app by applying the macro navigation page that utilizes the most appropriate conceptual model.
How do we navigate through an unfamiliar home? Usually we enter a room, scan for other doors or entryways, and follow the path that we feel will bring us to the appropriate space that will serve the function we are looking for (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc.). In the same way, homepages should act as a central room in a home, with various "doorways" to other spaces easily visible to users. These doorways are links, tabs, and menus, which act as gateways from the central home page to the other rooms, or pages. Each pathway should include hints via titles, captions, and images that entice users to enter the appropriate space, much how we might peek into a doorway to see if it is the room we are searching for. If a user enters a new page and finds it does not contain the information they were looking for, they should be able to move "backwards" in order to get back to the home page where they came from. Just as we would exit back through the door we came through if we entered the wrong room in an unfamiliar house.
Home Pages are most appropriate as the macro level navigation for applications that provide multiple, varying functions or services. Home pages are most successfully and widely used for retail. A navigation bar provides doorways to the expected, permanent spaces: menswear, womenswear, shoes, accessories, etc. Links highlighting special offers and seasonal items act as shortcuts to temporary spaces.
Profile pages are less about intuitive navigation and more about providing a reference point for the personal information that is being distributed throughout the application or network. Just as we coif our hair, carefully choose an outfit, and try to angle ourselves attractively for photographs, profile pages provide a specific place for us to fine tune how we present ourselves. They act as a mirror for users to check every morning, or whenever the need arises, to ensure their appearance is as desired. Just as we may nip off to the loo to adjust our makeup or hairstyle throughout the day, users should be able to easily navigate back to their profile page and quickly adjust their details. This is most commonly achieved by providing photo icons in easily accessible locations, such as corners, at the top of menus, or beside any visible interactions made by a user (such as comments or posts).
Profile pages are most appropriate in any setting where users must represent themselves to other users or an organization. Career/ job application sites, social media, and employee management applications are built upon how users present themselves, and therefore profile pages offer the most intuitive, ego-centric form of navigation. All user actions naturally circle back to themselves, and therefore should circle back to a profile page.
When we think of a dashboard, we tend to think of transportation: the cockpit of an airplane, the dashboard of a car. Dashboards present us with real-time information so we can react appropriately and efficiently to a situation (for example, the car is running low on petrol, I need to stop at a station soon). Outputs display the status of a certain process or function, usually in the context of a scale, so we can understand how "good" or "bad" a certain reading is (is the petrol level low or high?). Therefore, the dashboard of an application should be about displaying relevant information in a way that empowers users to react favourably to meet their goals.
Dashboards are fantastic for applications that offer any kind of monitoring or tracking. In wellness applications they allow users to see their caloric intake, hours of sleep, and steps per day so they can adjust their behaviours accordingly to meet their goals. In banking applications dashboards allow users to monitor their account balances, interest, and real-time market information so they can invest wisely.
Of course, many applications successfully combine the use of home pages, profile pages, and dashboards for various aspects of their software. However, a landing page that is either a home page, profile page, or dashboard must act as the primary macro page in order to avoid confusion or redundancy. The key lies in deeply understanding your users needs and goals to determine which conceptual model will be most intuitive for them.