While working on some graphics last night, I had the privilege of talking over Twitter with Peach, the owner and developer of MyColorScreen. MCS, if you don’t know already, is an in-beta social platform based around sharing screenshots of your home screen from iOS and Android devices.
Last night Peach shared a link to a site that presented the UI beauty of DM1, a drum machine app for the iPad. I like to peruse what designers post, as I am always looking for new inspiration. Yet when I arrived on the site, all I felt was a little jealousy and disappointment. This app was beautiful – the realistic textures, glowing dials, and lifelike controls would make anyone spend hours creating silly beats. And of course, it was only available on the iPad.
Read more after the break…
These thoughts led me to ask Peach the semi-rhetorical question on why there was nothing to match this work of functional art on Android? His initial response was a technical one, citing the UI hardware acceleration the iOS tablet offers. But I wanted to step back a bit and discuss for a second why, with all the steps forward Android has made, design has not been a paramount part of app development? Now, I’m not saying it is completely devoid on the platform. There are many examples that Android has which showcase its ability to house amazing UXs (user experiences). A couple examples include Gowalla – the social location app – and Square – the mobile POS service. Both apps provide a top-tier UX that keeps users coming back for more. But time after time, I see apps provide great features but do it with little thought into visual and organizational feel. Why would users come back to an app that’s difficult to use or look at?
Which brings me to a point Peach rose: Functions affects behavior, design affects mind/perception. Android has thousands of apps that have limitless uses and smart functionality. But many of these apps are lost in the void because the developer(s) added little – if any – thought into UX. They don’t realize that users come for the usefulness, but stay for the experience the app gives them.
UX is important because it creates emotional connections between the app and the user. Peach covers some of this in a little comparison post he wrote on the MCS blog. One point he makes there is that good design plants a seed of trust in users. Just like the shady websites you might stumble on or the spelling error-prone spam we get, look and feel has EVERYTHING to do with the legitimacy we give things. Good UX also tells the user that the developer(s) really care about the outward image of their apps and themselves. This spawns trust and a stronger emotional connection between the user and the app, which in turn increases use.
Of course, not everyone is a designer. I know many developers who are geniuses when it comes to programming but have (at least according to them) little to no design skill. Seek advice! Seek help! If you have to, share some wealth and hire/collaborate with a designer to make your app a real masterpiece. As the title says, design should not be the last thing developers think about, and is NOT something to put off. It’s unfortunate many people see UX as an optional feature that is thrown down the timeline into “we’ll get to it eventually” territory.
This is not to say developers should fill up their apps with pointless flash and glitz. Finding a good balance of visual layout and app resource needs that benefits and accompanies the app’s function is key. UI is also in the eye of the beholder – something one person enjoys can be vastly different from someone else’s. But implementing even some thought-out UX beyond SDK-level visuals separates your app from the rest of the unoriginal content found in in the Market.
I urge every developer to think beyond “what will my app do” and also consider “how my users would like the app to do it.”