Common threads: A perspective on multi-device continuity

How can we create seamless product experiences for a multi-device world? Design for continuity is relatively new in the mobile space, but I’ve been inspired by how other disciplines, especially the health industry, tackle the concept. This piece explores how healthcare’s continuity of care model (informational, relationship and management continuity) might be used to reveal best practices for designing multi-device experiences.

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Mailbox’s waiting game

If you’ve downloaded Orchestra’s Mailbox app, you’re probably familiar with this queue screen.

Mailbox is designed to make email simple and manageable with a beautiful, gesture-driven design. So, why the waiting list? According to the company, it’s to prevent servers from crashing and providing a bad experience. The reservation system itself has generated quite a bit of hype, which has in turn increased the number of people getting in line.

So, is this going to be successful for Mailbox? Does this mean all apps should ask users to reserve their service in advance? Here are 4 things, both good and bad, about Mailbox’s approach and what you need to consider before doing it with your app.

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First time user experiences in mobile apps

Designing good first time user experiences (FTUE) is not a project unique to mobile.  It has history in out of the box experiences, software installs, even workplace new hire onboarding. But designing the first time experience for a mobile app does present additional challenges.  It’s an important exercise for mobile product teams because it:
  • Refines the elevator pitch. Going through the exercise from a newbie perspective forces teams to think hard about their app’s value proposition. Products only have a short period of time—and limited real estate—to answer, “Why would I use this?”.
  • Affects brand perception A person’s first impression sets the tone for their perception of an app’s brand.
  • Impacts customer support Good out of the box experiences have been shown to reduce customer support costsSimilarly, good first time app experiences may reduce customer support emails and improve reviews in the app store.
  • Improves odds that new users will become returning users With 26% of users deleting an app after first use, the first time use scenario is your only opportunity to give them a reason to return.
Some mobile apps are rehashing mistakes that have already been recognized and overcome in other domains, so I’m covering 4 FTUE best practices that are especially important in the context of mobile apps.

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The “Focal Button”: A Pattern for Emphasizing Key Features in an iPhone App

As iPhone apps mature, designers are exploring new navigation structures that can support an increasing breadth of content while keeping simple tasks accessible.  There are now many examples of custom navigation, such as TweetBot’s flyout menus and Twitter’s label-less, contextual tab bar.

A budding navigational design pattern that is growing in use is the custom center tab button.  In this approach, app designers centralize their app’s primary tasks or content under the middle-most button of a standard 3- or 5-button iPhone tab bar.  This “focal button” provides a way to indicate and drive users to the primary functionality of the app, allows for top-level awareness of secondary content sections, and doesn’t require as much re-learning as a completely custom navigation design.

To differentiate the focal button from the other tabs, it is typically given a special visual treatment and an action label (ie, “Check In” or “Scan” vs. “News” or “Featured”).  Its visual emphasis helps users quickly recognize the core action they need to take, while its location, directly above the iPhone’s hardware home button, gives it a natural physical reference point.

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Using 99Designs to Get VisDs to Think More Like IxDs

I recently indulged my iconography hobby by entering a contest on 99Designs, the crowdsourcing design website. I like to engage in these competitions for a few reasons:  the short timeframe forces me to hone my conceptualization and visual design skills, I get to work with people I wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to, and I get to try on something new.  The prospect of a decent cash prize doesn’t hurt.

99Designs’s contests make it easy for me to do all of this, without the hassle of vetting freelance clients. All I need is for someone to post a project, and participation is just a matter of judging the design brief, uploading a few files, and checking on the contest holder’s feedback and ratings.

The contest I recently participated in was for 3 application icons.  Instead of just diving into the work, I approached the problem from a more methodical standpoint.  I started with a word brainstorm, followed by a validation card sort, lots and lots of sketching, and final design with the promise of future A/B testing. Certainly this approach is only scratching the surface of what constitutes interaction design but, nonetheless, the resulting icons were an immediate hit. I came away with a win and a great reference.

A snapshot of my process for a recent 99Designs contest

It’s important for visual designers to approach projects with an interaction design mindset, especially when the product will be the whole of, or part of, a website, application or interactive piece.  Sometimes, though, designers either are afraid that these methods will take too much time, or they just don’t have the experience with a user-centered approach.  Yet there’s a growing need for designers with hybrid interaction & visual design skills, so we need to find a way to make the process more approachable to them.

99Designs is well poised to make this happen. As of this writing, there are more than 60,000 designers registered on the site, and, at any given time, there are nearly 200 web, UI or related interactive contests running. If 99Designs just tweaks their contest structure to support a process of discovery, sketching and validation, they could educate these designers and add lasting value to the work they produce.

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