Going Native

Written by: on March 30, 2017

“Above all else, our brand wants to create a unique experience for our users.” Sound familiar?

Being unique is a choice that should be entered into carefully when it comes to mobile design. Users have grown very familiar with their devices over the years. Gone are the days when a user would expect (and even embrace) to have to learn a new app and spend time doing so. Innovative undertakings are always encouraged but should be thoughtfully considered if they fit the user’s expectations.

Today’s users expect familiarity. If an app does not function as expected, then it will be poorly perceived. If it’s familiar to the user, then it feels intuitive.

Uniqueness for the sake of being unique is contrary to usability.

From the very beginning, users are introduced to the native apps that come with their devices. This cohesive ecosystem forms expectations for how subsequent apps that they download should feel and function. This is the primary aim of Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and Google’s Material Design—to provide a method that will immediately feel familiar to the user and meet those expectations. We call this a “native experience.”

These guidelines form a foundation for functionality. With that foundation established, we can integrate the brand’s ambitions and their own guidelines. There will always be business goals that drive decisions in the design process. The HIG and Material Design allow us to create the least amount of friction for users to achieve these goals. Knowing when to deviate for the benefit of the brand and the user is crucial.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” –The Dalai Lama

To know if the product benefits from deviation, user testing is required to validate that the deviation feels natural. By user testing throughout the process, we can ensure that the innovation remains intuitive, improves usability, and adds value. This validation will take more time, resources, and, you guessed it, cost. And that’s okay, but it should be an exception. Creating an exceptional experience is the goal, not breaking convention.

Apple has embraced consistency from its very beginnings. The first Human Interface Guidelines were released in 1987 for the Macintosh. This is what caused loyalty of Apple’s products—though most users would never be able to pinpoint it.

Good UX should be transparent.

“Graphics are not merely cosmetic. When they are clear and consistent, they contribute greatly to ease of learning, communication, and understanding. The success of graphic design is measured in terms of the user’s satisfaction and success in understanding the interface.” – Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, 1987, p.9

Apple created a foundation to rely on, ensuring that their users would feel comfortable. They have honed that foundation through the years, but many of the core principles remain. Apple has learned from errors so brands don’t have to. Similarly, Google has learned a lot in a long, strange journey towards unification of its Android platform. Material Design is still in its infancy, but it allows a consistency that we can follow to make an app (and the user) feel at home on the platform.

Following conventions provides a solid baseline, helping to avoid pitfalls and delays. What these guidelines don’t do is restrict brands from creating something great. They can be anywhere from a conversation starter to a pillar. They can instill confidence and provide a means to speed up our process. Guidelines allow efficiency in development and provide risk mitigation by following a standard that will be successful and polished. They allow creative teams to focus on the real challenges that brands bring to the table, helping them decide when deviation is worth the reward.

Chris Fox

Chris Fox

Chris is a Design Lead at POSSIBLE Mobile, a high-end mobile development company. He has been leading design teams for over 5 years, bridging the goals of good user experience with exceptional user interface design. He plays drums and boardgames in his spare time and enjoys bike commuting to work (most of the time).
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