Uneducated as I am, I’m a proponent of globalism in UX design. That means at the core of a product you have it’s values and its a question of how they trickle out and down. On huge projects, you’re lucky as you have a lot of data to support that, however on smaller projects where not so much data is available, how do you work?
It’s in those smaller projects where you get more wiggle-room, it’s more about aspiring to an audience than catering for an existing audience and given that audiences hate change, it’s a huge bonus. We’ve seen it many times in the past that when a product overhauls its UI the masses rise-up in a fit of knee-jerk reactions. It’s human nature I guess.
However, not everyone is lucky enough to be working from scratch and depending on the size or lifetime of the project, someone who starts out on it, it’s likely to finish or even if they see it through from start to finish, they may only get to design aspects of the overall project.
It’s when projects are really huge that you begin to get fragmentation in design. What one person likes and loves in design isn’t necessarily valued by another. And if a project is cross platform, that means that your project could have a look and feel on one platform and another on another. In cases of deploying products on different platforms, you want to identify the platform behaviours and subscribe to them. A user shouldn’t be thinking, oh well on Linux it’s Ctrl + Q to close a window and so we should make it the same on Windows. No! Windows is Alt + F4, if you want to design for Windows, design for Windows.
When you consider all of the intricacies of simply designing for all the various different platforms. You have to really respect the work of UX designers that are able to design core concepts and allow room for implementation across all platforms. But when you consider that no longer is a platform limited to desktop, you think “wow”. However, there’s the problem; there’s a firm separation between desktop/netbook, tablet and mobile (smartphone).
I’m not going to attempt to say that no company out there is designing cross platform, of course there’s bound to be a few, but those are few and far between. There’s very few companies out there that are saying to themselves “we design for Windows, Linux, Mac, Android (both Honeycomb and Gingerbread) and iOS. I have a feature I want to introduce, here’s my ideas on how to implement it on desktop, tablet and smartphone.” In fact, what you’ll find is that in most companies, how to implement on smartphone and tablet are mere afterthoughts.
What’s worst though, isn’t that most companies are fragmenting design so most new desktop features are implemented in different manners at different times on different platforms. No, I think it’s somewhat a necessity and an unavoidable one at that which shows features will trickle in to different platforms at different times. However the start dates should be the same and the end dates should be bunched. As such there’s bound to be a hierarchy to these things. These hierarchies are almost exclusively decided by the statistics. Installations are what you look at here and the reason for that is simple. You want your biggest customers to feel loved, but you also want the biggest coverage of testers and as such the smallest audience is more of left always left waiting and rightfully so.
But if you take for example Android, who gets the priority there? You have the smartphone version and the tablet version. The tablet is considered a ‘hot market’ or so I’m told, and companies want to be dominant in that fledgling space. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? A number of companies are jumping in head first and now scaling back operations because the reality is, tablets are useful, they’re fun, they’re easy, but they’re far from a necessity. So no matter how look at it, while the average household will have 2.4 smartphones in circulation, the average tablet per house is a fraction of one. Yup less than one per household, so why are designers gearing their designs towards this market? Is it simply a matter of scaling down is easier than scaling up? I’m unsure. What I do know is that where we’re lucky to see development on a daily basis, testers can ask questions like “why is the tablet version getting it first?” far too often. Along with more simple queries like “Why would you support such a gesture that isn’t feasible on a small screen like a smartphone”. It’s a perplexing and almost vexing mode of practice which we seems to be accepted all too easily.
However with all that said, I reiterate my point that there should be global design goals that are tweaked to meet the requirements of each platform. Goals that are specified with all platform limitations in mind. That’s the key to a successful product. That’s been the key to successful desktop products for a while and the ignorance of such a successful train of thought is nothing bar dismaying.