Designing Across Mobile Platforms, Don’t Just Copy And Paste

james-authorBy James Clifton (@Cliffioo)

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You’d think that designing an app for iOS would be much the same as designing an app for Android yes? Just simply copy over the design and add in some back buttons on iOS surely? Well if you really care about how making an application truly intuitive for the user, then you would be wrong.

Something being intuitive is only that if there is a seamless flow for the user using the app within the context of the device they’re using. For example, if you are someone using an Android mobile device and you start up an application and everything uses a foot navigation and titles in the navigation buttons, it is likely that you will feel a disconnect between the app you’re using and the device you’re running the app on. This is because a user has grown used to the experience of that device and changing that is not a natural feeling.

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For a good example of using a different experience based on the mobile platform take a look at our MyFitnessPal ‘Appy Mondays Review.

One of the differences between iOS and Android are the fact there is a hardware driven ‘back’ button on Android devices, whereas Apple devices do not have this luxury, this means that a designer needs to account for this in their designs for iOS. This isn’t much of an issue as a user of an Apple device already knows this as a common convention and they expect to be able to select that back button in the top left of their screen when navigating menus.

 

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(left) Apple iOS back button in Mail app. (right) Android back button and Up navigation.

 

There is a great article regarding this topic and many of the other differences between the hardware and software navigation options on the two mobile platforms in this article here.

Each Operating System has its own set of HIGs (Human Interaction Guidelines), these documents are created to try and make a designer’s life a bit easier and helping to guide the designer in creating a user experience that will be intuitive to the user based on the device they’re on. You can find the Android Guide here and the iOS Guide here.

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A cheat sheet for quick understanding of the differences and guidelines for the two platforms is above. Credit: http://www.kinvey.com/

However, these aren’t always gospel. The question that all designers should be asking themselves is should they strictly adhere to a platform’s unique guidelines OR make their apps as consistent in appearance and functionality as possible? Well the answer will often be an important third option – focusing on creating the best user experience for the customers. Just because a guideline tells you otherwise, doesn’t mean that designers shouldn’t follow their experienced and trained opinion. How else would we discover new and interesting ways of navigating on different devices. These guidelines are a good starting point and a good guide to help designers make an informed decision.

After all that is what matters, the end consumer. If you can create an application that is intuitive and simple to use across multiple platforms then the guidelines can be loosely followed, however they are always a good point of call if you’re unsure on what to do and need a little helping hand.