Ever since my mother, a novice to technology, was able to successfully communicate over the iPad, I’ve been wondering about Apple’s secret sauce. What is it, specifically, that makes these devices so appreciated by such a wide range of ages? While reading one of my “learn to program” iBooks, I came across the Apple Human Interface Guidelines, where I believe some of the answers are found.
If you are a new app developer you might have heard of the Human Interface Guidelines which are Apple’s principles for a great user experience.
Here is my interpretation of these guidelines for new developers, just starting out.
Do you know how you feel when you walk into a room full of strangers, and then across the room you spot a friend? It’s likely that you immediately relax, and head over to a known quantity. A friendly device is like a familiar conversation: effortless and enjoyable.
Direct manipulation with accessible and realistic objects on a screen creates a positive and familiar association. In a room full of choices, most people are drawn towards what is most recognizable.
Do you ever find it difficult to coordinate people’s schedules? There are lots of conflicts, and very little common ground when something can be planned. On the contrary, when a routine is set on a regular basis, it’s easier to get together because that time is pre-programmed into our schedules. There is very little planning involved since everyone knows, for example, that First-Saturday-of-the-Month means movie night.
What is the set routine of an app? I clearly remember reading a book app and being frustrated by the page turning mechanism because it wasn’t consistent. The developer probably thought they were being cute or creative. But I didn’t want to think about how to turn the page, I just wanted to turn the darn page to read the book. The more predictable the mechanics, the more content we can access.
Have you ever answered the phone while still working at your computer? The caller starts talking, but you are still starting at your screen. Then you miss the purpose of the call and try to fake your way back into a meaningful conversation, maybe getting up from your desk to clear distractions and pay more attention to the caller.
I think that’s called “trying to focus”. In Apple terms, it’s called “a primary task”. What’s the most important function of the app? Is a certain feature mission critical, or will it distract the user from getting to their content quickly and easily? Apple’s suggestion to create an App Definition Statement is useful here: “If, after deciding on a few audience characteristics, you end up with just a few features, you’re on the right track: Great iOS apps have a laser focus on the task users want to accomplish” (from App Design Strategies, section 3).
What’s truly cool about these guidelines is that they create an environment where someone like my Mom can gain confidence doing new stuff. Mobile touchscreen computing based on human preferences can help us quickly move beyond the device and into problem-solving mode. We just need to be careful that we aren’t creating more problems than solutions along the way.