What are the seven most important mobile trends? What are the latest developments? What will apps look like in 2013? Jerry Lieveld is AppMachine’s UX (User Experience to the rest of us) and Design Director. He has been working on user experience and mobile app design for years. In his view, the trend is simple design.
1. Simple Design
We started seeing the trend last year. After years of textured images and lettering, we starting seeing “flatter” interfaces. Material structures and skeuomorphs — forms borrowed from reality (think of classic telephone keys or wood texturing) — have had their day. The design of Microsoft Windows 8’s Metro interface played a major role in the change. We also saw it in popular apps like Flipboard and Google’s apps. It’s an understandable trend as users don’t require as much of a connection to the imagery they’ve known in the past — say, the leather binder on a diary. As these visual metaphors become superfluous, app design can move toward a purely digital perspective. The part that appeals to me is the fact that we’re moving to ever simpler interfaces which are surprising in their clarity and ease of use. But simple design compels designers to consider every pixel. It forces them to balance the relationship of every image, and get it right. It’s a very Zen way of designing and, personally, I love it.Even so, we can’t forget about the growing, graying population. A good example of this can be seen in the learning curve for the laptop and the iPad, and the difference between the two. Give Grandma a laptop and, with a couple weeks’ help she’ll be sending you emails. Give her an iPad and she’ll be on it even faster. We have to be sure to keep the interfaces simple and clear.
By simplifying the interfaces — by maintaining simple design — our use of typefaces becomes increasingly important. Clear lettering is extremely important on mobile devices. But the typeface is also very much part of that interface. A heavier typeface creates a different look and feel than its lighter counterpart. That’s why it’s so important to play with the design to make it simple.
3. Fewer Clicks, More Gestures
What we’re now seeing is less use of clickable buttons and an increase in other movements. We are witnessing an evolution. As we come to understand touch interfaces, we can design more specifically for mobile devices. The button — the framework containing a contrasting color and text — will continue to exist as an isolated “call for action”.The swipe, the pinch, and the tap-and-hold will increase in their importance. Very soon, we’ll start scrolling through pages simply by tilting the device.
4. Animation and Change
We used to have a lot of animation when navigating from screen to screen.In the future, animations and transitions will diminish in size to become little treats of delight and Easter eggs. These will vary from simple parallax effects (images that move more slowly in the background than in the foreground) to the animation of pressed state buttons (buttons that change in appearance when we click on them). The pressed state often includes an alternative color. But we’re going to see more and greater varieties such as moving images or ambient glow. You can also see animation in news apps, for instance, the way the images stretch and bend as you move from page to page. Things like this make interfaces more fun to use. Animated GIFs have also helped this trend along. I expect to see more and more home screens using animation in the future. Sound will also increase in importance. Apps have to have a certain weight. They have to feel right. You want your interface to give the right feeling — one that gives me that “heavy” feeling. Very often, that goes beyond the visual aspect. We use movement to achieve that — mini-animations. I touch an image and it jitters. But you can enhance that feeling by accompanying it with just a little bit of sound. — so small that you hardly know you’re hearing it; you’d only miss it if it weren’t there. That’s also part of the design.
5. Native, Native, Native
In the near future, native apps will benefit enormously from web technologies such as HTML5.Web technologies are not yet seamless enough, or fast enough, and I don’t see that happening in 2013. If you really want that Wow Experience on your mobile app, it needs to be native.
Context-dependent apps attune their information — and their interface — according to where you are, what you’re doing. In other words, what the app knows about you. This makes the content more relevant and people will want to use it more often. That’s important! So the app will look different when you’re in Spain than when you’re in AppMachine’s home in the northern Netherlands. To take it another step, if the app knows that you like Japanese food, it’ll show you where the Japanese restaurants are. This can be incorporated into the design. Apps can look different at night than they do during the day. Or they can display less information when you’re moving than when you’re standing still. A news app, for instance, can give me a total overview of headlines and a few lines of text when I’m standing still. But, when I move, it will reduce its display to just the headlines — only the most important information.
7. Everything Connected
Here, we can see years of beautiful developments, all of which will continue to mature in the year to come. More and more services are putting their mobile foot forward. We are now developing services for Facebook and Twitter which have good APIs — Application Programming Interfaces. In the future, APIs will help open up more and more services and apps won’t have any trouble joining that trend. So, the lights inside your house will turn on as soon as you walk up to the front door. And your fridge will tell you that you’re out of hamburgers and lasagna.