Android UI patterns
Not much has been written on the subject of design for Android, which is odd, because Android is still the most widespread smartphone OS on the planet.
That’s why I was keen to accept a recent invitation to speak during the Design track at Droidcon 2011. Here are some thoughts based on the talk I gave there.
Android apps have been heavily criticised in the past due to poor usability and aesthetic appeal. But the truth lies in the middle: there are some great apps on the market, but there are overwhelmed by a huge number of dreadful ones. Often the functionality is there, but poor design makes them hard, even unpleasant, to use.
One of the issues with Android is a lack of solid and consistent UI patterns. These help designers and users, creating a set of expectations when interacting with the 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 and YouTube had several pitfalls.
In a way, it was also extremely exciting as we could do whatever we wanted. That’s a two-edged sword. A designer’s dream and nightmare, folded into one.
Fast forward to 2011. Now I feel Android is in a better position.
Google, while still the market leader, hired Mathias Duarte, who previously worked on Danger’s Sidekick and Palm Web OS user experience.
I watched Mathias at Google I/O this year, presenting the Honeycomb UI framework. It was clear that significant progress has been made.
In my view, the UI changes started by Honeycomb are going to make Android easier and more pleasant to use.
But 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. How will the same principles apply to both tablets & handsets?
Here are some of the important design challenges facing Android designers at the moment:
- How do you navigate between the different sections of the app?
- How do you visualise information?
- How do you provide feedback without interrupting the user?
Each app is different and there is no silver bullet to tackle all these questions; it depends on a number of contextual 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.