When I was offered presenting at the Design track at Droidcon 2011, I enthusiastically accepted as very little has been written on the topic. This still holds true, regardless of Android being the most widespread Smartphone OS on the planet.
The things is, Android apps have been heavily criticised in the past due to poor usability and aesthetic appeal. The truth lies in the middle: there are some great apps on the market, but they are flooded by a huge number of dreadful ones. Often the functionality is there, but lack of design makes them hard and unpleasant to use.
One of the issues with Android is a lack of solid & consistent UI patterns. UI Patterns are beneficial to designers and users as they set the expectations in interacting with a device.
When I started designing for the Skype Android app back in 2009, my team faced the huge challenge of creating a solid, consistent interaction design language almost from scratch. Even Google proprietary apps such as Gmail, Messaging, YouTube, etc. had several pitfalls. In a way, it was also extremely exciting as we could do whatever we wanted – a designer’s dream and nightmare, folded into one.
Fast forward to 2011, I feel Android is in a better position. Google – while being the smartphones market leader – has hired early this year former Danger’s Sidekick & Palm Web OS user experience director, Mathias Duarte. I watched him at Google I/O this year presenting the Honeycomb UI framework with his team and I recognised there was a lot of progress in there.
In my view, the UI changes started by Honeycomb is going to make Android easier (and more pleasant) to use. However, Honeycomb is just for tablets: the main challenge will be with when the next Android release (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich) comes out in a few weeks – as the same principles will support both tablets & handsets.
Here are some of the design challenges Android designers still face nowadays:
- How do you navigate between the different sections of the app?
- How do you visualise information?
- How do you provide feedback while avoiding interrupting the user?
Each app is different and there is no silver bullet to tackle all these questions – it depends on a number of factors.
My goal with this presentation is to look at some of the most remarkable apps on the Android Market and analyse best practices in navigation, fluid, responsive interaction and information visualisation.
Pixel Perfect Code: How to Marry Interaction & Visual Design the Android Way
Google IO. Chris Nesladek May 27, 2009.
Android Design Patterns
Google IO. Chris Nesladek, German Bauer, Richard Fulcher, Christian Robertson, Jim Palmer. May 2010.
Designing and Implementing Android UIs for Phones and Tablets
Matias Duarte, Rich Fulcher, Roman Nurik, Adam Powell and Christian Robertson
Android Patterns website