Tenet #1: The NUI is not the GUI
The first tenet that we live by at 5th Finger is that the NUI is not the GUI. You’ve probably heard of the term GUI (Graphical User Interface), which is used to refer to user experiences such as the window, file and desktop interface used on PCs and Macs. The new touch based interface paradigm used on phones and tablets has been labeled the NUI (Natural User Interface) because it uses natural input – your fingers!
When we are onboarding designers and UX folks to work in the touch environment, we must spend a fair amount of time ‘un-training’ their traditional thinking which has been built up over many years of designing for the user with a mouse and keyboard. The design challenge has now become: to create a tactile user experience that is engaging, foolproof and intuitive when the user is using their digits (and their 5th Finger a.k.a their thumb) to prod and poke at a glass screen.
We’ve found it best to start with a clean slate, and ask our UX team to work in a new tool when they start in touch. Help build a new paradigm by building the first iterations of the UX with paper cut outs or even Lego–something that helps them relate the experience back to the tactile, finger-driven reality of tablets.
Tenet #2: Be thoughtful about the location of your main interface elements & navigation…
Traditional UX typically positions key interface elements, such as navigation, based on visual hierarchy. With the phone and tablet, an extra consideration must to be factored in – where the user can reach with their fingers.
One of the key challenges with this is that folks can hold their tablet in a number of different ways. In some orientations, some parts of the screen can be a stretch to reach, and certain areas of the screen are especially prone to “Fat Finger Syndrome.”
There is a great post by Josh Clark that talks about this. He suggests two good rules of thumb to use when placing navigation on Tablet apps and sites:
- Position your navigation in the top corners where thumbs gravitate when sitting on the couch, chair or standing up (the middle is too far to stretch one’s thumbs).
- Place content advancement, interaction buttons,sliders/nav at the bottom of the screen so users can scrub through content without their hand or arm obscuring the content (which is the issue with a content advancement/scrolling at the top of the screen).
Tenet #3: It’s tactile like the real world so use existing real world metaphors!
The tactile nature of a tablet can make the introduction of real world UI metaphors much more successful than in the past. Be it a business app with virtual stickynotes that you move around a business canvas, or an Adobe color mixing palette, real world metaphors can be much more effectively leveraged in a tablet experience. Don’t hold back your creativity here as this is a huge opportunity to dramatically boost user engagement.
Tenet #4: Don’t be limited by what others are doing – create a new interaction paradigm
‘Less is more’ is a core rule in good UX. In the new paradigm of the NUI, there are new opportunities to do more with less by leveraging things such as finger gestures and other touch specific opportunities.
My favorite example of a new UI function on tablets, and touch devices in general, is the new approach to triggering a ‘refresh’ of content in a time based information feed. For example, look at the Twitter feed on the iPad. To refresh the feed manually, you can pull down the timeline to get into the ‘future’ of the current timeline, and if you hold it, it will refresh. From my research, this technique was invented by Loren Brichter of Tweetie fame (read more on how he came up with this new pull to refresh approach).
Tenet #5: Be passionate, and iterate often, to build a tablet UX that customers go out of their way to ‘experience’ not just ‘use’.
Look at Flipboard and Amazon WindowShop, both great examples of user experiences that you want to use and come back to again and again. Why is that? Undoubtedly, this is the fruit of passionate design teams’ labor.
At 5th Finger, we don’t just work on tablets and other mobile devices because they are new, we work on them because we understand what is possible with these devices.
We can’t go into this using a fixed, one-dimensional use-case driven approach. We know the importance of getting out and talking to consumers, finding out what they are going to engage with and building an intuitive user experience that they want to embrace, not simply use.
So, there are the 5 tenets we work with when developing a tablet experience. I hope they help stimulate your thinking as you look into your next tablet development effort.