MOBILE APPS NEED A ‘CAR MODE’?

This writeup is about the many popular mobile apps out there who would be so much more better, if only they were designed for context of use.

Car 1

The car is becoming a strong player in the digital ecosystem. There is a reason why Apple, Google and Microsoft are making big bets with things like CarPlay,Android Auto and Windows in the car.

Car 2

But those experiences, at least initially will be reserved for premium models and will take some time before they become mainstream.

Car 3

Designers and Engineers are striving hard to keep customers connected in this fourth dimension that is poised for a huge disruption like 2007, when the iPhone was born.

But this post is not about these new technologies. It is about the regular person who drives a regular car and has a regular smartphone.

One such person is me and I just happen to be an experience designer. I have a car. I also have a smartphone and I live a very connected digital life. There is no reason that some of these useful and popular apps can’t be enhanced with a “car mode.

First thought. Why not use voice right?

Wrong. A recent study by AAA shows the imperfections in the usual suspects like Siri, Google Voice, Cortana, etc.

So back to car mode. There are four key objectives when designing any experience that is consumed while driving.

Make it safe.

Show only relevant information.

Make it accessible and intuitive.

Make it usable in all conditions. DayTwilightNight, etc.

Some obvious scenarios

  1. You have to take a meeting on your phone. Number, Guest Code, Leader Code, Moderator Pin, Fuck you Lync… Blah Blah… you know drill and the frustrations… Solution: Tempo
  2. You need to find gas, coffee (I live in Seattle), or your favorite food chain in a new city maybe? Solution: Yelp
  3. Discover music. Skip, Switch, Like, Dislike… Solution: Pandora
  4. You are lost. Left Turn? Right Turn? Ave, Cross Street? Address? Landmark? Parking? Solution: Google Maps

Lets explore some solutions where a car mode will go a long way in making these interactions safe and useful.

  1. Tempo

Tempo, the smart calendar is a fantastic application. Must admit that I can’t live without it. I use it for the single reason that I never ever have to remember a meeting passcode ever again.

I typically attend meetings through my phone docked in the car when I’m driving to work in the morning. Legally allowed.

Now here is how it looks as a full size screenshot to say someone who designed it on Photoshop in a comfortable room with mood lighting and a stable chair.

Car 4Tempo as it might appear on a designer’s 27in display. Source.

Here is how it looks like in my hand at a typical viewing distance. Welcome to the real world Neo. What happened to contrast, viewing distance, environment, accessibility? In my car… a different story. Extremely dangerous and virtually impossible to use.

Car 5As it looks in my hand.

Now some common sense. If I turn on car mode at 8:20am, then the app knows a few things like…

  1. My next meeting is at 8:30am.
  2. Know which country I am in and knows which number to dial.
  3. I usually keep car mode on for about an hour.

So why the heck do I need to see every cool feature that the app has to offer when all I care about is my next meeting. Something that the app is already aware of!

Meet Tempo with Car Mode

Car 6Proposed design for TEMPO in car mode.

Car 7In my hand at a normal viewing distance.

Car 8In my car!

  1. Pandora with Car Mode

Advantages

  1. Pandora gets full real estate to show better and safer ads.
  2. Users experience beautiful full screen cover art and a very safe way to interact for just the bare minimum interaction if any.

Car 9Pandora Rest Mode. Tapping anywhere on the screen invokes the interact view for the user.

Car 10Pandora Car Mode. Only the controls that I care about with clear and safe touch targets.

Car 11Pandora Car Mode. Only the controls that I care about with clear and safe touch targets.

  1. Yelp

Advantages

  1. Users can set preferences on the places they usually visit. No search, no voice, no messing with controls or search results.
  2. Just 4 personalized and relevant results and safe touch targets.

Car 12Proposed design for Yelp in Car Mode.

Car 13Yelp in my car!

Conclusion

Disclaimer. I am not advocating people using anything when they drive. As we all know… people love breaking rules and I’m only addressing some approaches that can make these habits a little safe.

By Jatin Shah

UX Architect

 

The “Designer” Vocabulary

A look at the language of communicating a design today in a connected world.

Designer Expectations

Recently I found a very interesting post titled “Designers Who Don’t Talk Like Designers Get Hired”. The particular paragraph in question was:

“Many designers talk to businesses from a designer’s perspective. This results in lost contracts, poor communication, and feeling as though design is unappreciated by the client. It turns out that by learning to take a business perspective, designers can win more contracts, earn more from their work, and be more valued.”

There were some interesting debates and opinions within our design team about the tone and content of that post.

Personally, I thought the author was making a valid point albeit what appears to be a generalizing statement about the design community at large.

This brought us to the point of this topic which is, how do we define a designer today? What really are mindsets and skill sets of people with specific roles like user researcher, interaction designervisual designer,user experience designercustomer experience designercontent designer, front end designer, etc.

What language should any of these above designers speak? Should they be aware of the skillsets of each other? Is it about being a jack of all trades or a master of all?

To me, everything boils down to the simple fact that a designer today is mostly supporting three goals.

Fact: Like it or not, in most cases, the business is in it to make money by:

By selling a product or products… to make money. Example: Amazon
Providing a service… to make money. Example: Uber
Making systems efficient so that people are productive and hence enable the business… to make more money. Example: UXPin, Basecamp

Cool companies

Three examples of cool companies creating great experiences to make more money. AmazonUber and Basecamp.

Understanding how these goals trickle down to the smallest detail is I think, the big part in anything we design… including how we communicate the design or the approach.

Without undermining the importance of aesthetics in any way, I think using the right vocabulary to communicate a design to a business is extremely important. It is the “why’s” and “as a result of which…” in the conversation.

The dialogue really is about things like why the color, why the layout, why the SVG or why that size?

Should a designer only be communicating in the language of aesthetics? What is the real design problem?

  1. Am I, as a designer making choices that make 5 secs of someones time productive?
  2. Am I, as a designer making choices about how those choices affect the performance of the experience? Is it a designer’s problem?
  3. Am I, as a designer worrying about the perception of everything on the screen as perceived by the user?
  4. Am I, as a designer worrying about where and how the solution is going to be consumed?
  5. Am I, as a designer worrying about the design being scalable and future proof?

Do I as a designer understand the business? Do I need to understand the business?

In the end, I think as designers we need to clearly justify the reasoning behind our designs in a language of ‘gains’. What do you as a business gain by me as a designer communicating a design choice. It is about me as a designer understanding all aspects of a user centered design process and using that insight to support a design decision or approach.

The fact that things have to be aesthetically neat and current are prerequisites to me. There is tremendous effort in visual research and design but they are not value adds. You have to do it. To communicate a design solution just on the basis of aesthetics is not the right way in my opinion.

To support the original article that led to this post, It’s almost like me applying for a chef position in a restaurant with the leading line in my resume that says I cook really well.

Food for thought?

By Jatin Shah
UX Architect at Aditi Technologies
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