Designing Cross-Platform Experiences

UI Design | 09th May 2017
We now live in a world surrounded by all kinds of devices: Computers; smartphones; tablets; smartwatches; smart TVs; media streaming devices; gaming consoles; virtual assistants… even smart diapers emerged recently. Different devices housing different platforms with different conventions and different purposes, but ultimately they exist to serve it’s users, delivering information, entertainment and allowing them to accomplish daily tasks.

Designing products and experiences for this whole new set of platforms is a huge challenge and ultimately can either be a ticket to your product’s demise or key for success. You want to provide your users with the ability to change devices and still be able to accomplish the same tasks (maybe even expand some of them) without making them feel disoriented or even loose the connection to your brand, your goals and values.


Renato Reis, Ui Designer

Check out how you should Localise your User Experience!

 

Research, Research, Research.


An advice to all product managers, UX designers and even a stakeholders out there: Don’t try to be everywhere.

With all these platforms and devices available, you might feel tempted to take your product everywhere available which could be the mistake that leads your product to the realm of doom and confusion. Presence in various platforms is important, yes, but maybe your target audience isn’t using most of them, or maybe a platform’s market share is not high enough to justify high development costs. Part of being a product manager and a user experience designer is also defining your product strategy in these matters.

Research is the first step in this journey to cross platform design. To accomplish this, you need to be asking the right questions ofand about your audience, be it an existing user or someone you’re trying to bring to your user base.

“What tasks does your user need to accomplish with your product and what platforms could best help them in achieving that goal?”

“How many people use these platforms? What’s their market share or market growth?”

“In what context do people use these platforms? At which times of the day? Are they alone or with people around them?". Don’t be afraid of spending some time on this first step. Research can help you define your goals and ultimately avoid wasting time and money.

Each user task as a time and a place to be achieved. Work for the user so that whatever he needs to achieve is done right and with ease. Make these new interactions feel meaningful. Would you binge watch a show on Netflix on Apple Watch? Maybe it wouldn’t be the best experience. However this doesn’t mean the Apple Watch isn’t for your product: Which brings us to the next topic:

 

Adaptability


Ok, so through your research you found out that your user base is really into a specific device, (let’s stay with the Apple Watch for the sake of continuity), but your current product doesn’t really fit with it’s main use cases. Should you completely ignore it? Maybe you shouldn’t. This is the moment where you can start thinking about something that I like to call Experience Extensions.

Experience extensions usually don’t reflect the whole experience and goals of your product but they can help it expand towards other uses and in different contexts. They are, as the name suggests, an extension of your product’s core goals and can help and optimize certain user tasks.



Apple Watch. Should we add this Experience Extension?

 

Design with the platform in mind

Similar devices, different platforms

Every platform has it’s own set of predefined usability and design conventions. You can see this more commonly on Android vs. iOS devices. Although they are both mobile oriented and the end goal for the user might be the same, using each platform establishes some behaviours that can be difficult to avoid which can cause frustration if your product doesn’t behave the way the user expects it to on a specific platform. Don’t forget that your product will live in a device that is used for other apps and tasks. Try not to avoid creating big learning curves.

There are two main approaches to this problem. You can either be completely faithful to a platform guidelines and diminish your brand presence, much so like WhatsApp, which aims to behave as a native system app, or you can give your brand the center stage and just apply basic navigation and behaviour guidelines to ease the users interaction with your product. An example of this could be AirBnb. Although they follow both iOS and Android basic guidelines, their brand and custom style guide elements are much more present.


Design with the platform in mind

You should also take advantage of certain platform specific functionalities to enhance your product. Things such as 3D Touch on iOS or Widgets on Android can bring an extra touch to your product. Remember though, that are platform specific functionalities and won’t be present everywhere and even can disappear or be replaced in time so don’t base your product on them.

Beyond the basics

There are several other platforms and devices you can consider, all of them with their own set of advantages and, of course, limitations.
 

  • Smart TV’s: Designing for television is a challenge that deserves a separate article in itself. These are devices that are usually in your living room and can be accessed by anyone. Although they can be connected to the internet, most Smart TV’s have low processing capabilities so don’t go crazy when designing for them. Having a slow and unresponsive experience can also create frustration with your user.
  • Wearables: Most commonly associated with smart watches, these devices are personal, worn by the user at all times but they have a reduced number of actions due to their size and the way you can interact with them, at the present time. Depending on your product, you might want to reduce features or try going for an experience extension.
  • Tablets: These are usually more entertainment driven and are less personal than a smartphone. There is usually one tablet per household which is shared by everyone. Think about how you can enhance your experience with this in mind.
  • Media Streaming (Ex.: Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast): These devices use your TV as the medium but have much more powerful capabilities than a Smart TV. There are a lot of different platforms here so don’t waste time on all of them. Instead, focus on the ones your target audience is using and take it from there.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): These platforms are the new sensation of technology. VR aims to be entertainment and gaming driven while AR is trying to enter the areas of Productivity, Business and Education. Either way, they tend to cause some discomfort and dizziness on most users, when used for long periods of time, so if you need to be in these platforms, keep it short and as neutral as possible.
  • Zero UI platforms (Ex.: Google Home, Amazon Echo, Chat Bots): If you ever heard about Zero UI, these are the devices that brought it to life. These devices don’t really have a user interface except a cute voice that responds to your every request. Remember, your product’s brand is (should) be more than just a cute blue and a trendy font. Always pay attention to, the voice and the tone couple with the relevance of the dialog you’re having with your user.
  • Miscellaneous: Popularly known as the internet of things. Think fridges, locks, toasters, diapers… Everything you can stick a board on and connect with some kind of app. This is still a relatively new field so it’s still unclear how these platforms will grow. But you would be a fool not at least consider some of them.


 

Consistency


One of the secrets to a great cross platform experience is being consistent across all of them. Consistency comes in different forms and you should be able to respond to these issues when designing your product.

Information Architecture

There’s a reason why this is the first topic on the list. Information architecture is one of the most important parts of your product. It’s what enables your user to get to where he needs to be effortlessly (if done right). Be consistent with your content and how you group it. Sometimes the exact same structure won’t work across various platforms but at least try to make it familiar enough so the user doesn’t have to learn about how your product works all over again.

User Interface

Every user interface will change depending on the platform you’ re designing for, we’ve learned that much so far. But there are some aspects of your UI that speaks for your product’s brand and these should be preserved everywhere. It’s important to have a well curated style guide and a visual framework of what your product looks like and the way it all behaves.

Language

Language, or the way you talk to your users, be it in the form of dialogs, error messages, on boarding, copy, even tech support and newsletters. Defines how your user sees your brand and your product. Whatever approach to take in this area, be consistent with the tone and voice of your product. Mailchimp, has a very comprehensive set of guidelines on how they talk to their users. You should check it out: http://styleguide.mailchimp.com

Patterns

A word that scares most of the designers I know, but trust me, they are your best friend. Patterns are a common solution to existing and recurrent problems in UX and UI design. They rely on bulked data and best practices to solve a problem that users find repeatedly and are most used to interact with. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel every time you’re designing for a new platform. Use your own set of patterns if you already have some establish and research new ones that can help you design the best product on every platform.

 

Afterword: Don’t be afraid of failure


If you’re able to tackle all your user’s needs on every platform and still maintain your product’s core values, congratulations! You’re at the top of your game. If not, don’t worry. Failure is what allows us to move forward to better, more significant products and experiences. Fail as early as you can and as often as you can.

 
Renato Reis was invited by Hi INTERACTIVE to write this article.

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