Even ten years ago, “experience” was not really something that was given much thought in building software. More often than not the primary goal of a piece of software was simply to display results, or data. How the data or results were displayed was more often a function of technical specifications than it was a matter of user-centric design. That is to say, while the user was often a part of the process of creating specifications for a software solution, the end result was often not differentiated on being tailored to the user, but rather the data. It can be argued that if you polled software publishers ten to fifteen years ago on what user-centric design was, the answer would largely be centered around presenting as much data to a user on a single screen as possible (“less clicks is more productivity”). The end result was focused on process rather than personalization and taking into account how the user works (which is not the same as process).
That line of thinking was certainly acceptable in the past, but things are much different today. As web platforms became richer and aesthetic design became more important to the digital consumer experience, users frankly demanded more of the software they used. Gone now are the days where "battleship grey” is acceptable. Software that is successful in today’s market often makes effective use of user-centric principles including the determination of user personas, natural flow of information, content taxonomies, effective and intelligent use of colour, wireframing and storyboards among other things. Making the right experiential decisions in the software design stage has become just as important as making the effort to test the code prior to flipping the switch on a production instance. If that sounds bizarre, think of it this way: what use is the best, most robust software solution if your users hate the way it works for them? If the user doesn’t buy into it, the software solution has ultimately failed in its objective.
The phone as a platform is no different, especially in mobile platforms that are truly modern and provide great amounts of feature capabilities out of the box (GPS, modern browser, multitasking, notification engines, etc.). The base experience that the platform provides enables software developers to create an even richer, more user-centric experience with the apps that they build on top of their chosen mobile platform. With Windows Phone, Microsoft has built a unique base experience (in Metro) that software publishers can leverage to create applications that truly raise the expectations bar for users and the apps they install on their Windows Phone device. The rest of this post focuses on the things that you as a developer/designer can do to create a truly amazing and user-centric experience within your Windows Phone apps.
Fresh and Simple
Windows Phone represents simplicity in design. When describing the principles of modern Windows Phone design, you may have seen phrases like “fierce reduction of unnecessary elements”, “fast and responsive”, “focus on primary tasks” and “content, not chrome”. All of these phrases revolve around the idea of making it easy for users to find the information they need.
When wireframing your app, think of the following things:
Navigation in your Windows Phone app should respect the flow of the Windows Phone platform. Always use the hardware back button for going to the previous screen and never create a navigation structure that breaks the back button stack. Simply put, this will cause the app to fail certification. It’s also the most common reason why apps fail the certification process in the first place.
Below are some of the more important considerations around Windows Phone app navigation:
Creating a User Journey
It’s one thing to think you have a killer app idea. It’s an entirely other thing whether that idea translates into a popular app. Your intent as an app developer or designer is to create an experience that is lasting and meaningful. Actually, that is the goal of not only mobile app creators but of any app creator in general. Aside from solutions that are considered “one-offs” or temporary solutions, what really drives us all is to create apps that frankly everyone wants. Your ultimate goal for success may differ from someone else (e.g.: “I want to become rich from the revenue from my app” vs. “I want to be popular because everyone downloads my app” vs. “I want to make a positive impact on someone’s life because they use my app”), but the fundamental desire is the same: “I want people to download and use my app”.
So when you are thinking of your app, there are three major questions you need to ask yourself before you hit Visual Studio and Blend:
If the answer to any of those questions is no and your intent is to make your app as popular and relevant as possible, then you probably need to think a little longer on the problem space your app is trying to solve for.
Keep in mind this general mobile app statistic: The average mobile application is opened by a user once. Only around 1% of all mobile apps are used regularly long term.
So how do you entice users to first download your app, then open your app more than once? There is no one right answer, of course, but there are three guiding principles that greatly enhance your chances of getting to that goal:
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If you're building apps for Windows Phone 7, go to the App Design Guidelines documentation on the App Hub. It will give you a good primer on what works and what doesn't. If you're looking to start building an app for WIndows Phone but don't know where to start, download the free tools here and then look at these Windows Phone Developer Resources to get started. Happy designing!