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SXSW: How Emotions Determine Android's Design 68

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "At a SXSW panel titled, 'Android's Principles for Designing the Future,' Helena Roeber (who headed up Android's UX research from 2007 through 2012) and Rachel Garb (who leads interaction design for Android apps at Google) discussed the complex philosophy behind Android's design. Roeber went back to the very beginning, recounting Google's Android Baseline Study, in which the team made in-home visits to study how people use technology. 'We saw the profound effect that technological design has on people's lives,' she said. 'Technology had become so pervasive that people had started to schedule and enforce deliberate offline moments to spend time with their family and friends.' From that study, the team learned that users were often overwhelmed by their options and 'limitless flexibility,' leading them to consider how to design a mobile operating system that wouldn't beat those users over the head (at least in the proverbial sense) on a minute-by-minute basis. Instead, they focused on an interface capable of serving features to users only when needed. That meant creating an interface that only interrupts users when needed; that does the 'heavy lifting' of the user's tasks and scheduling; that emphasizes 'real objects' over buttons and menus; and that offers lots of chances for customization. All those elements— and many more — eventually ended up in Android's trio of design principles: 'Enchant Me, Simplify My Life, and Make Me Amazing.'"
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SXSW: How Emotions Determine Android's Design

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @02:54PM (#43126767) Journal

    What is the point of calling something a 'principle' if it is so vacuous as to both affirm and reject practically any design decision you might choose to make?

    • by SourceFrog (627014) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @04:24PM (#43127263)
      The point of this talk looks like marketing to me, and this reads like a Slashvertisement. "Enchant Me, Simplify My Life, and Make Me Amazing" - are you kidding me? Make me gag. It's just a regular bland interface of a regular bland smartphone (and yes, I use Android). "We saw the profound effect that technological design has on people's lives" Seriously? This is 2013, I thought people got tired of hearing this sort of of cliché'd "oh we're such technological visionaries" marketing wiffle-waffle in the 90's.
      • The only redeeming feature is that people who would be capable of thinking up the phrase "Enchant Me, Simplify My Life, and Make Me Amazing", much less think that it was a good idea, probably aren't the people that they actually allow near the codebase...

        Given the sheer quantity of Silicon Valley huckster circlejerk that SXSW has managed to attract, though, the talk was probably well tuned to the event.

    • This bit doesn't seem vacuous:
      "that emphasizes 'real objects' over buttons and menus"

      But it doesn't seem to describe Android. Given that it has 4 hardware buttons, one of them that brings up a menu.

      • Worse, it does seem to describe MS Bob, truly a humanistic UI paradigm ahead of its time!

      • this bit doesn't seem vacuous:
        "that emphasizes 'real objects' over buttons and
        menus"

        But it doesn't seem to describe Android. Given that it has 4 hardware buttons, one of them that brings up a menu.

        My Nexus 4 doesn't have any hardware buttons. Well, it does have volume buttons and a power button. But the four software "buttons" at the bottom of my screen right now are a down arrow which collapses the keyboard and turns into into a back button when the keyboard is not in use. Moving on there is also a house button (does that count presented "real object") which brings up the launcher. And there's Window button which brings up my list programs which now appear pear as thumbnails instead of icons as they

        • In some ways that is because iOS got a lot more right on its first try than Android did

          Yes.

          but there also seems to be a genuinely geeky love of experimentation to Android which rightly or wrongly seems missing from iOS.

          Well I guess in part that's because iOS developers know they'll have to get it past an app store reviewer. I'm not saying that the reviewers actually filter out so many apps based on a non-standard or problematical UI, but the thought that they might keeps developers more focused on keeping with established conventions.

          • It's not just at the developer level. I was referring to the OS itself. Android has changed more over the years than iOS has and this is the case on every level: hardware, software, UI. Look at a T-Mobile G1 (the first Android device ever) and compare it to Nexus 4 or any other Android phone today. The former looks much more primitive compared to its descendant than the original iPhone looks next to an iPhone 5. Similarly, screenshots from Android 1.0 look far more primitive than those from 4.0. The transit

            • I never saw the point of skinning. It's a complete waste of time. Then again, I'm not much influenced by fashion either, so it might be that I'm in a minority.

  • We have seen such things detailed in the The Humane Interface [amazon.com].

    One of the big criticisms of MS is that it did not start with how humans were going to interact with it's equipment. I know in the past several years it has, but that may be one issue with MS mobile technology. A mobile device is very intimate, much more than the personal computer, and therefore the interaction between user and device is much more critical. Than Android did start with the user is not surprising.

    • Neither did Android. Before Apple showed off the iPhone, "Android" looked and worked very similar to wince.

    • by waveclaw (43274)

      One of the big criticisms of MS is that it did not start with how humans were going to interact with it's equipment.

      One must be careful when using this definition of human. This wide net catches up the technophiles and the feature freaks with the technophobes and the Alzheimer's patients. The wider market is all that Google is courting here with their Not Dorky Glasses(tm). That group is made up of very different people from the early adopters. It should be obvious that majority of users of computing de

  • by KiloByte (825081) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @03:08PM (#43126835)

    Tablets have their uses -- for example, my 2 years old nephew can use them just fine. For myself, though, I fail to see any single purpose I'd ever want to use one. I don't watch TV or its likes, any activity that's not read-only requires some reasonable input dev. For most tasks, a keyboard is mandatory, and for the rest, a touchscreen is hardly ever adequate. Either you need something more accurate (like a stylus), or an interface that's dumbed down into uselessness.

    So say what you want about "getting overwhelmed by limitless flexibility" -- oversimplifying things means you end up with a shiny toy that's not fit for anything serious. Unless you call getting the user to purchase the toy after a brief play "serious" -- as it's indeed to the advantage of the toy's maker. There's no way around the learning curve: either it's easy and weak, or hard and powerful.

    • That's why I love my Asus Transformer Prime. It's a tablet and a netbook. Best of both worlds. I can even do 'real' work on it when I have to with very little trouble.

      • I can even do 'real' work on it when I have to with very little trouble.

        Even when "real" work involves displaying things side-by-side? Android's window management policy is all maximized all the time. Switching between two maximized windows isn't very efficient [notalwaysworking.com], yet it's the assumption that Android has always made [slashdot.org].

        • by donaldm (919619)

          Android's window management policy is all maximized all the time

          When displaying on any device you always need to consider the size of the screen. For small screen such as those on phones it becomes almost impossible to have two or more windows displayed however with Android you can have multiple session screens (most modern Android devices have 7 by default although that is configurable) which are accessible by a simple pinch and touch or just a slide.

          On larger screens is is possible to have multiple windows on the same screen and this is the case for many OS's with G

          • by tepples (727027)

            with Android you can have multiple session screens (most modern Android devices have 7 by default although that is configurable) which are accessible by a simple pinch and touch or just a slide.

            What do you mean by "session screens"? Google android session screens didn't bring up anything relevant. If you're referring to "fragments", introduced in Android 3.0, I was under the impression that only one application could have its fragments on the screen at once.

            On larger screens is is possible to have multiple windows on the same screen

            I have a Nexus 7 tablet, and I want to run two phone-sized applications side-by-side. But as the other comment [slashdot.org] points out, Android applications are allowed to assume that the size of the usable portion of the display doesn't change after the ap

    • by matty619 (630957)

      I bought a Transformer Prime, really just on a whim, I just wanted to play with a tablet. I was honestly worried that it would end up just collecting dust, but it turns out I use it all the time. It's almost always on the coffee table, and when we have guests over, it invariably gets passed around the group as people look up random facts, or showing people Youtube videos. One thing that has become really popular at my house, is using Youtube in Chrome to remote control the youtube app on the PS3 on the b

    • For the most part I agree -- one reason I'm reading and typing this on a Thinkpad.

      But let's talk about read-only tasks.

      First, a lot of those are now easier on a tablet than on a PC. Faster booting up, simpler interface. Touch what you want, it opens, you read/watch it. At the moment, anyway, tablets have better screen quality.

      Second, ease of use and screen quality mean that activities are migrating from print and TV/DVD to tablets. I read a lot of pdfs as part of my work. Like you I watch zero TV, but I

    • on an iPad, using Sente and Daedalus. Works for me.

  • ... is the opposite of this design philosophy.

    I really don't want to be a Linux basher, but the truth is that Linux embodies all of the principles of how you do NOT want to be friendly to the user. That's why it's never succeeded.

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      the truth is that Linux embodies all of the principles of how you do NOT want to be friendly to the user. That's why it's never succeeded.

      And what, pray tell, does Android run on?

      • by Solandri (704621)
        Android is Linux after Google removed all the "give the user every conceivable and obscure-to-use option under the sun" put there by enthusiasts. That's why it's succeeded wildly while regular Linux projects have yet to crack 2% market share among regular users (i.e. desktop/mobile). Same thing with Apple's OS X vs. BSD Unix.

        This is the biggest problem I've seen with the open source philosophy. People like to think it's altruistic, but it's really not. All it's done is shift the selfishness from prof
    • Linux doesn't even interact with the user in the way that you describe.

      There are several layers between Linux and the user of a system that
      runs a Linux kernel.

      I think you DO want to be a linux basher.

      • Funny thing is, Linux users use the term Linux to refer to the kernel AND informally to refer to distributions based on that kernel.

        It's only when Linux is attacked that they get all pedantic and prissy and object to the informal usage they themselves use all the time.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Thank you so much for your uninformed opinion. Back in the real world, Linux is highly successful in servers, embedded devices, and mobile phones and tablets.
      • i.e. Where KDE, Gnome and other Linux desktop GUIs don't get in the way.

  • That's good design? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @03:20PM (#43126919) Homepage

    The image shown as an example has most of the screen real estate tied up with a useless background of car images. Then there's a tiny map. The screen contains no useful information about bypassing the delay. The actual info is less useful than what 511.org or calling 511 provides.

    As for dialog boxes, Apple had a spec for those in the original Macintosh user interface guidelines. Trouble dialogs should be two sentences. The first sentence describes the problem. The second suggests corrective action. And you should never have to tell the machine something it already knows.

    What they actually say about their design sounds like the design spec for Metro, except without the emphasis on square flat-shaded icons. Scrollable grids of icons presented in more or less random order do not scale well.

    • by petsounds (593538) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @08:43PM (#43128379)

      A lot of the current UX people are pretty young (and I'm talking about both Android and Apple), and don't seem to have a solid grasp of historical UX precedents. (same thing is true of art directors and programmers) Google seems to think they invented all this stuff, but as you say the Macintosh had a GUI design bible that is still very relevant today and covers most of what Google is trying to spin as their profound discoveries. Unfortunately even the UX designers at Apple seem to cast aside this bible. Everyone wants to make their mark and do something different than what was done before, even if it's not the right decision, even if it hurts the user's experience. Often hubris clouds their judgment. Jony Ive is a great designer because he serves the product, not his ego.

    • The image shown as an example has most of the screen real estate tied up with a useless background of car images. Then there's a tiny map. The screen contains no useful information about bypassing the delay. The actual info is less useful than what 511.org or calling 511 provides.

      The image you are referring to is a picture of a slide, not a screen shot from a mobile device. So, yeah, their slide isn't that pretty because they included part of a screenshot on a big lame slide background. On an actual device, this is actually way more useful than what 511.org provides. For one thing, you don't have to call anyone. You just unlock your phone and the info is right there. You just look at the notifications on your phone and it tells you that your destination will take you X minutes to

  • They went to homes and saw how "emotionally" attached people were to their iPhones that they made the engineers duplicate iOS.

    Either that or they went to homes and brought back nothing the engineers could use, and forced them to find their ideas elsewhere, like by looking at iOS.

    Obviously they are not identical, but why open source is always "inspired by" their closed source predecessors and is somehow able to deny it or justify denying it is intriguing.

    This is how it appears to the public:
    Linux = Windows r

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Would you care to mention a single idea Apple has not "stolen" from someone else?

      And your claim that Linux is a rip-off of Windows (and not Unices of old) is beyond words.

      • You didn't seem to understand his post. Did you not get as far as:

        "Picasso had a saying - 'good artists copy, great artists steal' - and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."
        - Steve Jobs

        His point is that EVERYTHING is part based on other things that came before. And he's pointing out that the degree of Android being based on iOS was high, but that in this presentation that pretends to lay out the principles and techniques that Android UI was designed by, they left out bit where they stu

  • It's amusing how with all their detailed explanations, you realize that the iPhone is exactly that. Not overwhelming with complex "multi tasking" stuff. Focusing on full screen apps. Simple UX, with simple visuals. Badges. And yet, a powerful graphics engine that enables "enchanting" animations. The iPhone is enchanting, useful, and helpful.

    All this shows is that even if you try to go through the whole journey of researching this, you eventually get to the same conclusions about how to build it. Because the

    • I am no Apple fanboi but I will say that Android's big problem is all the crapware shoveled with even the most premium Android phones.

      My mom just got a Galaxy Note 2 (the most expensive Android phone out there) and even that came with stuff I've never heard of... Samsung wiz stuff and Verizon Navigator and bunch of other Verizon crap.

      I suppose it's not an indictment on Android OS itself, which I think is quite nice, but rather the inability of Google and Samsung to control the carriers and tell them flat ou

      • I am no Apple fanboi but I will say that Android's big problem is all the crapware shoveled with even the most premium Android phones.

        My mom just got a Galaxy Note 2 (the most expensive Android phone out there) and even that came with stuff I've never heard of... Samsung wiz stuff and Verizon Navigator and bunch of other Verizon crap.

        I suppose it's not an indictment on Android OS itself, which I think is quite nice, but rather the inability of Google and Samsung to control the carriers and tell them flat out, don't put your crapware on our phone. Only Apple seems to be able to do that for some reason.

        Apple has this problem too. They put a lame Maps application on their phone and Safari and all this itunes integration crap. The difference is that Apple goes out of there way to stop people from shipping better replacements to their apps. So, you don't realize how much crapware their stuff is.

  • emphasizes 'real objects' over buttons and menus

    Microsoft Bob, oy
       

  • The only emotion Android evokes within me is frustration.

    • I switched phones from iOS to Android about a month and a half ago, because I wanted a phablet, widgets, and expandable memory and an escape from the jailbreak vs. upgrade-to-lates decisions and waits.

      But I'll be damned if Android doesn't piss me off often. Most frustrating thing: inconsistent UI. What does the back button do in this app? And what does the onscreen "back function" near the top do do? Is it even there? That's one example, but the general theme is that Android apps are far less consistent tha

      • by xombo (628858)

        Technically the Android UI guidelines don't advise a back button at the top left, however iOS makes it mandatory by virtue of its lack of a physical back button.

        What you see as inconsistency is ultimately the result of two effects:

        1) Direct porting of iOS apps/UI to Android by people who don't work with Android
        2) Lax UI standards enforcement on the part of the Google Play review team

        While that's probably the most forgivable of your comments, I agree that app instability and kludgy UI details are legion thro

  • by speedplane (552872) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:17AM (#43129589) Homepage
    Anytime I hear of a study being performed on "actual users," I know the product is behind the times. If there is no leader who is willing to put their cojones on the line and say what the interface should be, then there is no actual leadership, just engineering through committee. The android product is a perfect example of this: fine for most, imperfect for all.

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