App-ing like it’s 1999
Posted May 23, 2016on:
Have you ever wondered what mobile apps might look like if they existed in the 1990s?
I got an answer when my son’s school authorities provided a notice for parents to download a “notification and attendance” app.
If you cannot remember what web pages looked like in the 1990s, this rude reminder might help.
The app reminded me of the web-based Java applets of old. It was plain and perfunctory. If the app could have an odour, it would be that of a musty attic or a mouldy basement. If it had an introductory screen, it would be to swipe cobwebs from its interface.
That is my way of saying it was unappealing. It was as if the app maker resented creating it.
The app was awful in form and function:
- It constantly nagged you to log in.
- It looked like it was ported from a desktop for point-and-click instead of swipe-and-tap.
- As a phone app it was meant for portrait use, but it seemed to be designed from a landscape point of view.
- It seemed to have borrowed its layout from a backward webmail programme. (Cough, iCON, cough!)
- The designer might have taken paper prototyping too seriously. The layout and buttons look like paper outlines and stickers.
I share two screenshots and offer more specific comments with the examples below.
- This is an example of the app’s blocky and monotone design.
- Note its poor use of English.
- The tappable icons or hotspots are inconsistently designed.
- The notification is incomplete: Saved to what location?
- The landscape photo is saved in very low resolution as a portrait with black letterbox bars.
Local app makers need better design sense. For example:
- Visual design: The look and feel should be modern or at least current, not a throw over from the Geocities web page era. A tight review of the five most popular communication apps should reveal a mountain of design clues.
- Usability design: The mobile app should be a dedicated app instead of a wrapper of a web app. Good apps focus on what the user wants and needs, not on designer or desktop hangups.
- Social design: A communication app should be designed for people to interact. It is not just for one party to disseminate. Users expect to be participants and to provide feedback. Build and promote those affordances.
- Current design: Today’s design is flat and avoids skeuomorphism. Instagram recently changed its Polaroid-like camera icon to a modern, flat icon. Old design is like Microsoft clinging to the diskette “save” icon even though no one uses diskettes anymore.
- Language: An app can look gorgeous and be user-friendly, but if its prompts are in broken English, its design is broken. This is not nitpicking; this is about taking pride in work.
Old and complacent design encourages old and complacent practice. Perhaps this is a strategy the app provider is using with schools. It looks safe and familiar to decision makers, so more schools might adopt it. But the app makers ignore other stakeholders and users at their peril.