With the rise of mobile, more and more people are looking at in-app purchases to monetize their products and services. But, as usual, there are design aspects to think about. I this article I intend to explain two of the most important things to think about when designing for in-app purchases: Relevance, and Access.
Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don’t work. As a former game designer, I’ve studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I’ve learnt so far about creating rules that work.
Sit up straight, I’m about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products.
There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it’s not the answer that is the problem, it’s the question.
The question is: Is it enjoyable? It’s the difference between functional and great.
Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple’s plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.
The revolution started with the iPhone.
With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn’t intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple’s standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn’t feel quick enough.
Web technology is getting better
However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.
One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.
It looks great. It’s fun to use and it’s a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn’t work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn’t made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It’s that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.
Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. You can find my first post on the subject here.
Another example from a 2011 app is the amazing full screen representation in Wren.
White space apps
When I first saw Wren I was amazed. It was focused and minimalist. Therefore I was shocked to see the full-screen button in the top right corner of the app, “Wouldn’t that completely wreck the experience” was my knee-jerk reaction. Then I tried it and another trend was obvious, apps that scale without bloating their feature sets, or White space apps.
Why are White space apps different? Mobile.
The mobile revolution has some interaction and UI designers scratching their heads or pulling their hair trying to fit all the usual information. The current computing paradigm has relied on massive amounts of text and information tags for a long long time. Even programs that have really tried to rid themselves of rarely used functions or unnecessary amounts of help information have sometimes been stuck in contextual help hell due to the modus operandi of desktop interface design.
No more. Mobile has rid us of all these things. And some designers are provocative enough to realize that less really is more and simply scale their apps without adding more information or complexity.
Is this good or bad?
Only time will tell. But the dominance of mobile design today tells us a lot about what people like. I think it is less about the iPhone being a must-have product and a lot more about really smart and beautiful apps that are just complex piles of engineering on other platforms.
Simple is better. And using white space to focus the users attention on a sparingly chosen set of functions beautifully designed makes this clear. I believe these minimal products will in the future continue to trump the feature behemoths of yesteryear.
Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012.
An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.
Example from mobile webKit build
Related function Panels
You’ve seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:
This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.
The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:
the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by “stepping back”.
Why is this different from a menu
But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are “behind” our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn’t matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.
Is this good or bad
The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can’t know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I’m hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don’t think so. I think there’s a common feature for all types of good quality.
Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality
In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you’ll feel as if you’ve lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you’ll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.
This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let’s see how far that can bring us.
If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we’ll have a really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.
For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn’t all that great from the start.
Getting the values right
But wait, let’s back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We’re talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?
Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no “real” value. Only subjective, or perceived, value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.
The good part starts 12 minutes in.
So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.
Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They’re often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I’m talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.
A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It’s minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.
So how do we use this principle?
Don’t show the user experiences that aren’t finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don’t release half baked.
Polish one feature instead of making two features.
Make sure other apps aren’t making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is
The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!
Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts: