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March 27, 2015

Trends in Mobile User Interfaces

By TMCnet Special Guest
Ashish Sanon , UX Analyst, AgreeYa Solutions

Websites and mobile applications have become increasingly more complex as advances in technology take quantum leaps. What was once a one-way motionless medium is now a vivid and interactive experience. In recent years, the appearance of mobile applications has been slowly shifting away from the ornamentation of skeuomorphic user interface (UI) toward more elementary, flat UI elements. The resurgence of flat design, due in large part to evolving principles that focus on simplicity and utility, is an attempt to remove the ever-increasing and unnecessary embellishments from applications that impede functionality. And while companies like Microsoft (News - Alert) and Apple are leading the charge, redesigning their interfaces to return to a more user-centered experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean UI will ultimately become two dimensional. On the contrary, the options are infinite when taking into consideration the following principles.

Layering interfaces. If there’s one thing the shift from skeuomorphic to flat has revealed, it’s the interface design option of layering, which takes full advantage of the z-axis. This approach, accomplished by placing unused backside elements over those intended for user interaction, gives a sense of depth to the interface, making the experience more tangible by providing the intensity of 3D and establishing a clear relationship between elements and interactions.

Divide and separate with elements instead of lines. When considering best practices to achieve ultimate usability, subtle elements and appropriate use of color keep the interface neat and clean and differentiate content from standard boring lines and curves. Even simple remedies such as removing unnecessary elements have the potential to make content more functional and focused.

Swipe, slide, and gesture controls. Within the last five years, developments in the way users interact with the computer screen have evolved from touch to brilliant gesture interaction systems—like Leap Motion and HP Sprout (News - Alert)—that enhance user engagement and improve ease of communicating with applications and software. In addition to panning through virtual realities, gesture interaction enables users to perform a wide range of functions, from exploring 3D models of buildings and maps to analyzing vital organs before surgery.

“Thumb” rule. Whether designing or redesigning, the most important feature to consider is the environment in which a new application will be used. By giving thought to every device—smart phone, tablet, PC—and every characteristic of user, from those in perpetual motion to the disorganized multitaskers, application versatility ensures usage in every circumstance and removes limitations and requirements for two-handed operations.

Simple color schemes. Creativity with color is key. Directly or indirectly, simple color schemes are most often associated with flat design, but designs utilizing one or two colors—using shade variations—enables users to concentrate on performing fundamental actions. Too much razzle-dazzle and unnecessary visual clutter cause distraction, confusion and frustration.

Icons and images, animation and typeface. Icons and images can be both visually interesting and helpful when created with a clear understanding of purpose and function. A consistent and simple design re-uses components, behaviors, colors, and aesthetics to reduce the need for users to think and rethink. Animation and gestures are also innovative tools to enhance—and control—user attention, but don’t fall into the trap of employing these methods for the sake of including fancy technology. The same holds true for use of typeface. The old and outdated concept of making things more appealing with multiple fonts is old and outdated for a reason: it’s simply not true. Goals and objectives can be realized more quickly and efficiently by discerning when and where to use these design elements.

User identity. The motives to design new applications generally fall into one of two categories: to perform a specific task or to create a presence with no particular function in mind. While the former requires a minimalistic approach for functionality, the latter requires additional consideration for functions that may provide access to significant company information or other useful applications.

Back to the white board. With the information overload most people experience on a daily basis, the majority rarely remember how they receive information but often recall how it made them feel. In the same way advertisements focus on selling to desires and emotions, UI and User Experience design (UX) have become an integral part of good website design and the software development life cycle (SDLC). Great applications start with the end user in mind, building upward to create the customer experience people desire and connect to on an emotional level.

The 80/20 rule. It’s a fact, however, that 80 percent of app users utilize only 20 percent of its functionality, and therefore it’s critical to keep the 80/20 rule in mind when designing a new application. By identifying the 20 percent, interfaces can then be pared down and fine-tuned to create more intuitive and useful applications—the ultimate goal for each and every function—that assist the user in identifying the task and completing it in a timely manner. Mobile users, in particular, crave simplicity and clarity and are often pressed for time and limited to small devices. Removing extraneous obstacles to meet their expectation allows them to easily complete actions without wasting time navigating to dead ends or reading lengthy instructions, reports or manuals. Neat and clean interfaces with sharp and concise icons that serve as a doorway behind which lengthy explanations are hidden away, allow the user to decide when and what to read.

Continuity, clarity and a user-centered focus. Keeping choice in the hands of the user is as important as the need for continuity. Today, mobile devices can go anywhere and perform millions of functions, yet routine interruptions occurring throughout the day can cause frustration to users who must restart applications. Creating applications with memory or bookmarking capabilities allow users to pick up where they left off, without wasting time and effort. This is especially useful when receiving emails, text messages, and notifications when a device is locked. An intuitive application senses action, allowing a user to decrease the number of taps needed to unlock the device to view the notification before reverting back to the locked position.

Ease and simplicity of use, clarity and beauty of execution begin the process of decoding the way technology works and translating it into the way people think. With the mobile market in constant flux and upgrades and improvements added at break-neck speed, what works best today may not be the answer for tomorrow. With the help of analytics and other new innovative tools and technologies, the best mobile application designs and user interfaces have the capacity to provide rich and engaging experiences with flexibility and scalability across multiple devices, and a consistent focus on a superior user-centered experience.

About the Author: Ashish Sanon is a UX analyst with AgreeYa Solutions. Sanon has been working in technology for nearly a decade as a certified usability and user experience analyst. Passionate about UX, eCommerce, mCommerce and all things digital, Sanon is interested in making technology as simple as possible by creating beautiful and user-friendly applications. 

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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