The process of designing interfaces for multiple devices in today’s age of technological advancement proves to be a challenge at every step.
People will use your product on a variety of devices – from mobile phones, to laptops, tablets, desktop computers, etc. Designing something that can be fully functional on any device can be a taxing process, but it is a necessary one, which can be extremely rewarding in the end both for you and (especially) your users, if done right. You never know how many chances you have to get your product right. Small companies almost never have the luxury to experiment so it is incredibly important to give it your all.
In this article, we will review the various topics you must have in mind when designing interfaces for several users and devices.
Things that can make -or break- your product
The visual language of your product must be universal and modern. It is always best to test out various styles and trends, and to go outside of your comfort zone if necessary.
For the concrete look and feel of your product, when working for different devices, there are two schools of thought:
Design your product like it is a world for itself. Try to build a product that is by all means unique. Going down this path requires you to build a strong identity by creating your own visual guidelines. That is how you can create something that is different than anything else on the market, something revolutionary maybe, but also how you can miss to meet a sustainable adoption from your users, by getting away from customers usages and habits. Innovate. Make, or Break.
Design your product strictly under the OS guidelines / best practices. Stick to the usual – chose patterns that match with the overall tone of the each operating system, with a slight tweak to make it more unique and in tune with your company’s philosophy and brand. This choice has pros and cons but with it you can never go wrong. Designing interfaces under the OS guidelines allows you to build a “safe” foundation which you can then freely alter and adapt to your desires.
Both philosophies are appropriate, and no matter which one you choose, you should follow through with them to the very end.
When validating directions for the visual identity of your service, try to go for a simple and timeless aesthetic – beautiful colour schemes and elegant typography with a thought out layout. Smartly laying out your content is one of the most important things.
Also, never force the user to connect the dots because depending on your design and how complex it is the average user might not find his way. You can avoid this mistake by being very thorough with your layout design process.
This is a good path for creating a pleasant experience for your users. During all the process, you must never stop thinking about the User Experience (UX) by having the end-user in mind.
Find out what are the functions that are most needed in your product. Surveys, tests, market and user research… are all incredibly important.
Investing substantial time into something people won’t need is just wasting precious resources that could be used elsewhere.
DIVERSITY IN YOUR USER BASE.
Have in mind that your user base will be diverse in age, in experience using tech and so on. You should not exclude any type of user (consciously or not) through your design.
Intuitiveness is the answer to this concern. Create something that can be widely used by different profiles of users: an intuitive interface, an easy to understand layout which in the end results in a pleasurable user experience for everyone involved.
THINK OF THE FUTURE.
Make it updatable. Your product isn’t finished when you place it on an marketplace, or offer it to your users. Actually it is never finished, and could still improve over time. Trends come and go, and technology advances so rapidly that you should always keep your app or software up-to-date with your users’ changing perception and expectations. Change is imminent. Designing interfaces with that in mind makes them “updatable”, both in terms of UX and UI. Make sure that your design can function even if you change the overall tone or layout of the product.
New hardware can complicate things. New technologies (resolutions and device specifications) come up all the time. Never get tied down to a certain set of existing hardware or software, always leave room in your design so that you can update (or rearrange) it when the time comes.
When designing interfaces, always use self-explanatory pictograms. There is nothing more frustrating to a user than when he sees a cluster of icons that don’t tell him anything.
Those icons might be nicely designed but if they don’t tell a message, if they don’t give the necessary information on the first look, then they only damage the design, and may lead your user not to explore every capabilities of your product.
TRENDS & INNOVATION.
If you’re following the latest trends, you know that they evolve quickly over time, sometimes even overnight. Pick and choose what you want to use in your design but don’t get too focused on trying to recreate what has already been done. Be selective when analyzing what you will integrate in your visual identity. What is most popular might not be the best for your product.
Talking about designing interfaces, don’t innovate without reason. Smaller (“safer”) improvements over existing content is always the best path to go for. The best in interface design is already around, and you will find inspiration everywhere on @Medium or specialized Design / UX websites. Innovation for its own sake rarely ends well.
Follow trends, but not blindly.
INTRODUCING NEW ELEMENTS.
There are very well documented cases of apps with millions of users that had a dramatic decline in their usage analytics after introducing the hamburger menu. The developers had the right idea in mind, they just didn’t anticipate that the average user wouldn’t intuitively understand that those three thin parallel lines represent a side menu.
Obviously it took some time before that new icon etched itself into the conscious of every mobile user. The important thing to note is that this anecdote isn’t applicable only to mobile UI design but interface design in general.
When you can, go for more.
There is a distinction between what is necessary for your product to be competitive, and what is an added benefit or asset of your service. When possible, try to go for more and give your users as much as you can.
Streamlined interface, without any clutter. Make it simple and make it clean. The last thing you want to happen is to put-off your users with a sea of buttons, menus or unorganized text (continue reading: Escaping The Threat Of User Dispersion Through Good UX Philosophy)
Highlight the most important function. The core of your product must be the most visible element. Everything else should be in the background, out of first sight.
Optimization. Your service has to be optimized well enough so that it can satisfy the needs of your users no matter what device they use it on.
Making your product functional on every screen size. Someone might have to use your product on a mobile phone or on a tablet. They should never have to zoom and swipe to no end just to see the navigation. From a mobile device to a television set used as a monitor – make your product usable and viewable on as many screen sizes as possible.
Always a plus:
Show your users that there is more. If you have additional “nice to have” features that surround the core of your product, they shouldn’t be put at the center of the user’s attention as well as they should not hidden. You must look into finding a way to highlight them in the user journey so that your users know where to go to if they need something that is not found at first glance. A feature might not seem like something worth having to you, but to a user it could make all the difference.
Having dedicated mobile variants of your product. If your product can be used on a mobile device, it’s always a plus to create a separate, mobile-friendly variant of your service that is designed and adapted to accommodate the different hardware. There has to be a different “set of rules” for a different screen size, and creating a mobile variant allows your users to use your product to it’s fullest potential even on-the-go.
Being bold makes the difference
When designing interfaces, don’t just follow the norm.
By simply following the heard, you can only expect to achieve what has already been achieved in your field, and quite frankly no one wants that.
Create something new, something different, something that your users will want to talk about and share with others. This can be achieved by delighting them, surprising them by delivering more than they expected.
Be bold, be different wherever you can – whether it’s in the bigger picture or in a small detail. By creating a great product that will be adored by countless users, you can one day dictate trends and create shifts in the industry.
Become a leading force in your field and an inspiration to thousands and millions, isn’t it what every designer should target?