As we come half-way through the year, we’ve seen the visual landscape of mobile start to change. Until recently, Apple’s design aesthetic had dominated the mobile world, but with Windows mobile’s flat UI striking a different look, and sales of Android devices increasing, we’ve seen a few different looks emerge.
What are these trends, and what do they look like?
1. The End of Skeuomorphism
A controversial topic among certain designers, many people are calling for the end of skeuomorphic design. This style makes visual comparisons with real-world objects, to help users understand how the apps work – like your calendar app that looks like a traditional paper calendar.
Some people argue that these mechanisms aren’t needed anymore now that the majority of users are familiar with smartphones. Many designers want the freedom to present digital interfaces differently, without the (sometimes) clunky metaphors that skeuomorphic design uses. There’s value in this argument, since these metaphors can waste valuable screen space to mimic their real-world counterparts, and sometimes unnecessarily.
But it’s easy to forget that not all users are early adopters. A lot of people are just getting their first smart phones, and interfaces that iPhone users may be bored of already, might be a useful stepping stone into smart phones for the millions of new first-time Android customers.
2. Hidden Menus
Along with less metaphoric interfaces, we’re seeing more and more examples of minimised navigation, hiding menus behind single buttons that don’t take up so much space.
There’s a long-held interface design theory that encourage designers to reduce the amount of thinking that users need to do to find what they’re looking for – and to get them to where they want to be in as few taps (or clicks) as possible. Minimising the interface elements slightly goes against this grain, as it adds at least one more tap for users, and obscures the options from being seen immediately.
But as interface animations get more sophisticated and less clunky, these two-step navigation menus may be worth the lack of visibility in menu items. If users feel a clean interface is worth an extra tap, this trend could introduce an exploration of the use of screen space. As designers though, we should be careful not to sacrifice understanding for space, and to consider the increasing number of new smartphone users entering the audience base.
3. Larger Type
The way we interact with digital displays has come a long way in the past few years, with new format displays at both the large and small ends of the spectrum: large LCD screens, HD, touch-screens, tablet and pocket-sized mobiles.
This sudden diversity of screen sizes has meant that people have rightly demanded flexible content, and alongside this, a growing number of interfaces are incorporating larger type, and images too. Larger type means that users can clearly read content on whichever device they choose, but it also reinforces the trend towards minimising navigation, giving content more room to breath.
Of course, there are rumours that Apple’s iOS platform is undergoing a big redesign when they release the new iPhone later in the year, causing speculation about what aesthetics will be pushed and dropped by the masses. Whatever happens with Apple’s iOS, we’re entering a more diverse period of mobile interface design, which can only be a good thing.