The good, the bad & the *$#%!

Our user experience team read, analyzed, reviewed and tested numerous iPad magazine apps on the market. The BBTF design team is currently working on reinterpreting a magazine experience for the tablet environment, and this audit was part of creating a guideline of “best practices”

We analyzed both user interface design considerations and magazine page layout strategies. There were two key questions we asked while going through this audit: What enhanced the experience? What distracted us from it? There are many aspects of app design that can be covered on this topic. We are focusing specifically on magazine app user interface considerations for this post.

“Once I figured it out…”  or “Once I figured out how to…” usually precluded most of the responses from our reviewers.  Which begged the question: Why do they need to “figure it out” and why isn’t it just clear to the user how to find what they are looking for? We came back with a few culprits.

The Experience Killers:

  1. Navigation tools that require you to “find it”
  2. Icon usage that isn’t clear and force you to test it to figure out what it means.
  3. The use of “fancy” gestures to navigate an app lead to usage accidents.
  4. Inconsistent experience between portrait and landscape modes & the loss of the linear consumption experience expected by a reader.
  5. Lack of clear indications on what elements are interactive requiring you to tap around the screen like a mad man trying to discover if there is indeed additional content to explore.

Overall the biggest frustration for our reviewers was accidental interaction. All of a sudden they were somewhere in the app and they didn’t know how they got there. Even worse how to get back to where they wanted to be. Alarmingly, this experience was consistent between both  tech savvy reviewers and the newbies.

We expect some level of experimentation and steeper learning curve from a newbie, but our techie testers being left frazzled? This results in a user experience rating of FAIL in our opinion.

You have by now noticed that we are not naming names or pointing out specific failures on a brand level. Why? Simply because the purpose for this blog is to suggest solutions to common interface design mistakes on a fundamental level.
The Best Practices:

  1. Maintain a constant presence for primary navigation tools, keeping it minimal to avoid distracting the user from the page contents.
  2. When using custom icons, consider supporting text to help guide the user to it instead of asking them to figure it out through experimentation.
  3. Gestures, just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should. One finger, two finger, three finger swipes… sure you can associate different actions to each but – is it intuitive? The answer is no. Keep it simple and refrain from getting fancy, just because you can. This will also avoid interaction accidents which result in a poor user experience.
  4. Whether you are a user with a portrait reading preference or landscape, consistency is the key. Maintain a seamless experience in both orientations to decrease the learning curve and create a sense of linear awareness. The magazine reading experience is naturally a linear experience. The online experience is a nonlinear experience. While users understand they are interacting with a digital device and do expect a level of interactivity, do not forget that while reading a magazine they still expect a somewhat linear experience. Blend these by offering a nonlinear navigation option. Do not displace the user with completely inconsistent designs and features simple because they turned the device on its side.
  5. If there is more content for the user to interact with let them know, clearly. Create a consistent call to action and present it in a way that is minimally intrusive to the user.