user interface

Future Interface Experiences

App Design Paradigms

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Have you ever wondered what it is about an application that makes the user experience familiar and intuitive to us? There are many underlying factors which affect how we use an app, as well as the way we connect with it. A large portion of the apps we use have a basic framework which we seem to connect and interact more intuitively with, otherwise we wouldn’t be using them. These app design paradigms come into play with the way we navigate apps, create content in applications, and organize assets we have within those apps.

Navigation

Within the apps that have the most wide-spread use, there seems to be a consistency in how the navigation is implemented into the UI; and not only on hand-held devices either. The consistency (or lack thereof) goes unnoticed for the most part. As designers though, it’s our job to figure out what conditions us as humans to interact with the various devices and interfaces that we come across each day, so that we may better our future designs, products, and apps.

Google+ Navigation App Design Paradigms

Left-Oriented Navigation

FacebookGoogle+Path, Mail.app, and dozens of other services and apps have left-oriented navigation systems. While there could be many factors for this design choice, there’s one reason that makes the most sense, at least in my opinion.

Since the conception of paper, (most) humans have been writing their languages from left-to-right. This was originally intended to protect the ink from being smeared across the pages as it was being written onto the papyrus. While an iPhone display isn’t exactly a piece of Indo-European papyrus, it’s in our culture to teach and be taught to read and organize from left to right.

From an early age this has been instilled in us and through that, our brains have learned to comprehend much, if not all of what we do in the left-to-right manner. By placing the organization system within an application on the left-hand side, we naturally view it as part of the interaction process. There are exceptions to this, as not all apps are designed in the examples I discussed above. However this does present a valid argument for left-oriented navigation within apps.

Left Hand Navigation App Design Paradigms

Bottom-Oriented Navigation

Bottom-oriented navigation is yet another possibility that seems to shine within certain mobile apps. Apps such asTweetbotDropbox, and Instagram all have predominately bottom-oriented navigation. The best argument for bottom-oriented navigation is that when using our mobile devices, the placement of our hands allows our thumb to easily glide along the bottom screen.

This is a welcomed concept to our subconscious, as it is the quickest solution to a problem. This placement also helps being that such movement of our thumbs prevents us from blocking any other content that is on the screen. It’s a logical solution to the development of the mobile platform.

Bottom Oriented Navigation App Design Paradigms

Top-Oriented Navigation

Top-oriented navigation exists, although it seems to be a bit more prominent in desktop apps. I’m yet to come up with a valid argument for that paradigm, with the exception of productivity apps such as Numbers and Pages, where, for organizational sake you start at the top. Though Pocket is one exception. By having the navigation keys up top on a slightly darker background color, it puts more emphasis on the saved content. If you have any argument for this paradigm, I’d love to hear feedback in the comments below.

Publishing/Creation

When going to share, publish, reply, or create something within a mobile application, there is a recurring theme in the vast amount of designs. While the y-axis of this particular paradigm shifts from app to app, the x-axis seems to stay consistent. In a variety of mobile app genres, the button to add, create, or publish content is right-oriented.

Tumblr, Apple’s Clock app, and Trip Cubby all share this UI choice. To make a new Tumblr post, select the button in the lower-right-hand corner; to create a new alarm in the Clock app, select the ‘+’ button in the upper-right-hand corner; the same can be said for creating a new log in Trip Buddy. I believe the reason for this is the same as mentioned above; the fact that a majority of individuals are right-handed and our thumbs naturally fall along the right side of the x-axis.

As with the paradigms mentioned above, there are exceptions. Facebook, both native mobile apps and browser-based versions, have the button for a new post located across the top of the display. Path also takes the complete opposite approach with the post button being located in the lower-left-hand corner. If there are any apps that use a different method, I’d love to see how they implement it into the design.

Right Oriented Creation App Design Paradigms

Overview

With designers and developers coming up with new apps each day, there will always be a variety of UIs within their respectable platform. It’s interesting to look at, however, that a large portion of the most downloaded and used apps share the paradigm of designing with the human subconscious in mind. Many developers may not even consciously know themselves, the reason for which they implement these UI choices, but that only goes to show that this paradigm may simply be a product of that which is unseen. The subliminal, if you will.

What design paradigms have you noticed within various UIs? Share them, below!

Study: Facebook relies on good design to retain users

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An ACM CHI study finds Facebook adheres to good user interface design principles

What is Facebook’s secret to keeping the world’s largest user base content? Sticking to well-proven software design principles, one study has concluded.

University of Washington graduate student, Parmit Chilana, worked as an intern at the social networking giant last year, and, during her time there, interviewed Facebook engineers and design specialists to learn about how they build and deploy new features for the service. Chilana discussed her report, which she co-authored with other researchers at the University of Washington and Facebook itself, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, being held this week in Austin, Texas.

Facebook has an audience that would make user bases of even the largest software products seem small in comparison, Chilana explained. As of latest count, the social networking service has over 845 million users. And it is an audience as diverse as it large: Facebook supports over 70 different languages. About 80 percent of its users live outside of the U.S. and Canada.

"Even if only 1 percent of the users were dissatisfied, that would still represent close to 10 million users," Chilana said. "Most software companies don’t even have a user base of 10 million users. So you can imagine the impact of [Facebook’s] design choices can be enormous."

While its users may grumble about periodic privacy infractions or buggy new features, Facebook has largely been able to continue to increase its user base and keep them involved. About 50 percent of its users log on every day, and interact with more than 900 million objects that Facebook stores on their behalf.

Chilana sought to identify what perceptions those in charge of Facebook’s user interface held about what makes for a successful user interface. She interviewed 17 Facebook employees — software engineers, product designers and product managers. She queried them about the decisions they had to make when launching a new product or feature and asked how decision choices fit in with the company’s business priorities.

Chilana’s work “is one of the very first studies of Facebook’s [design] process,” said Wayne Lutters, a computer science associate professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, who moderated Chilana’s talk. Only recently has the company “slowly started opening its doors to outsiders,” wishing to learn more about its development process, he said.

As a baseline, Chilana used the generally agreed upon principles of good software user interface design, as espoused by John Gould and Clayton Lewis in a 1985 paper “Designing for usability: key principles and what designers think.” Gould and Lewis stressed iterative design, a focus on user testing and user-focused design in general.

While many product designers tend not to be aware of such principles, Facebook relies heavily on such ideas, Chilana found. “Over half the interview participants explicitly identified user experience as a key factor in driving design on Facebook,” Chilana said.

Facebook also values iteration. One engineer told Chilana that the company “will just try to get something out there, make sure it is reasonable and then iterate on the design based on how people are using it,” she said. “Design is hard,” another designer told her. “Just doing our best with very smart people, we screw up plenty.”

This approach is not always easy given the size and variety of Facebook’s user base. One engineer told Chilana that “once you get away from the core features, it is not necessarily obvious that there is a magic way that a feature could work in a way that everyone can find value in it,” she said. Engineers often have to design for the least common denominator, she said. Many proposed advance features don’t get implemented because the adoption rate would be too small to make the work worthwhile.

Engineers cannot simply rely on intuition. Early on in the company’s history, Facebook engineers added many features on the premise that if they thought the feature would be cool or useful, so too would the users. The company is slowly moving away from this mindset, Chilana said. New features, such as a photo upload button, must be equally intuitive to a 90-year-old Mongolian grandmother as to a 14-year-old Brazilian soccer player, one engineer told Chilana.

Even with user satisfaction in mind, Facebook designers are not afraid of implementing a cutting-edge feature that fulfills the company’s long-term vision of what a futuristic social-networking site should be like, even if it causes short-term dissatisfaction with users. When Facebook introduced the Timeline format last year, for instance, some users complained that it was clunky and difficult to use.

One engineer praised the company for not being afraid of making changes even if it causes some dissatisfaction. In some cases, such as the controversial Timeline, Facebook will give users the option to update to a new feature before rolling it out across the entire site. This works to minimize the disruption caused by the new feature, as well as giving the company engineers more time to tweak the design.

Despite its size, Facebook faces the “same frustrations” that other organizations do when trying to design good interfaces for their users, Lutters said. “It’s a very familiar tale, even if the stakes are much higher.”

"It’s a positive affirmation that they are doing the things everyone is else is doing to stay current, relevant and focused," Lutters said. "If there is a secret sauce, she wasn’t able to uncover it."

How To Design Technology So It Becomes Natural:
Steve Clayton talks about the drive at Microsoft to embrace what he calls ‘natural user interface’. Clayton, who says his job is to find out what amazing projects the tech firm is working on and share it with the world, takes us through a future-forward vision where gesture, sound and artificial-intuition creates a world that extends the possibilities of our creativity.