5 lessons learned in iPad app. design per Jennifer Brook, Info. Architect, NY Times, speaking at Interaction Design Assn. yesterday:
1. Start Simple
There is an inverse relationship between feature count and user satisfaction. Start simple, evolve and improve over time. “Applications should do one or two things really, really well,” she said. The more features, the less likely you are to get them right.
Brook quoted John Gall on complex systems: “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.” She also referenced John Gruber’s article This is How Apple Rolls to show that Apple has the same philosophy.
She said the Waterfall method will make a design that’s heavy and unusable – “No one wants to use a tool that’s smarter than us, we want to use a tool that makes us feel smart.” Her circular process: Design, Do, Discover.
2. Design for the Platform
She said each platform is like a theme park, and you’re designing a ride that has to fit into the aesthetic. “This isn’t the web, it’s not going to work like that,” she told her team. “Apps are a distinct category from print and web.” Ben Ward’s post called Understand the Web helped clarify her thinking about this. There will be device-specific apps, and browser apps.: Devices will continue to diverge. Device-specific apps give a better UX than building a generic solution for all. She also advised putting your work on the device ASAP to review your work, and review it there often – get it off the desktop.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Direction
She said the team had an idea of the design before they got to Cupertino to work on it at Apple, but when they executed it, they realized it was lacking and had to scratch it and start over. She cited Andrew Hinton’s post on Courageous Redirection, which talks about projects that were made better because they were re-set.
4. Care About Your Reader
Brook and her team were whisked away to Cupertino before the iPad came out, so they designed for the unknown. They imagined the context of the iPad as a lean-back experience or at the breakfast table. They thought long and hard about where and when would the app. be used – context is all important. They realized they had to tell a story for their readers. She also admonished us to think of this work as handcraft – made by hands for hands.
Brook said even alerts should be carefully crafted, so that if your app. breaks (and it will), the user is engaged – see Foursquare. Also, use your app. through the Accessibility mode to see the full user experience.
“I think our workspaces are structured for managers and not makers,” she said. Get up out of your office and hang out with the developers. The engineers don’t need you, but your users do.
I want to know what lessons have you learned from your tablet experiences?
– Kathy Sandler