UX and U: Defining an app for Social Networking
What do you do when you are commuting to work?
When I'm in Hong Kong, I notice that roughly 9 out of 10 people will pull out their mobile device once they get on their ride, whether it’s a bus packed with people or an overcrowded MTR train. Guess what they’re doing?
Based on my observation, most of them are either texting or using a social media app such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Social networking has become a global phenomenon in recent years, and the user experience of social media apps plays a crucial role in the popularity of the networks.
Two of the key steps in building a mobile app are the way that people interact with your company and the experience they have while they are doing so - User Interaction and User Experience.
The UI (user interaction - how the user acts on the system and how the systems acts on the user) design of social media apps has evolved over the years. There are subtle and obvious changes in the ease of use and navigation. Here’s an example:
Comparing the two different versions of the Android Facebook App, there are clear improvements in communicating the functionality of the Like and Share buttons. The 'thumbs-up' icon encourages users to click it more than plain text. Now that users are familiar with this icon, perhaps in the future, designers can simply put the icon there, without text, to suggest clicking (pattern metaphorical affordance).
Also, the share action is hidden in the older version, but in the current version it is handy. Small changes like these can enhance the overall user experience of the social media app and encourage users to spend more time on the network.
It’s true that cellphone screens are getting bigger. What’s the size of iPhone 6 Plus again? 5.5 inches. (It won’t fit in my skinny jeans pockets for sure.) But how many social media feed posts can fit in the screen in a single scroll? Not many. One of the biggest challenges in designing for mobile devices is showing loads of information on small screens.
UX (User experience - encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products) designers take into consideration what users might want and tailor the experience to fit the user flow.
In general, social media app users expect less scrolling and more reading. In the latest Windows Phone Facebook app, the design has done the trick of hiding the top and bottom navigation when the user scrolls down so the user can see a few more lines of the posts. The navigation reappears once the user scrolls up, regardless of the vertical position from which the user is scrolling. A small change like this in the UI design has a strong impact on the users’ overall impression on the app and the social media network.
Another good user experience example is Instagram's auto-play video feature. Users can simply scroll down the feeds page and pause when they want to watch a video. No clicks required!
Possibility - Consistency UI across platforms
Now, it is very common that people own more than 1 mobile device, and consistency in the UI design across platforms is probably high on the wishlist of cross-platform social media app users. Let’s take a look at the differences in the UI design of the Twitter app on the iOS, Android and Windows Phone platforms.
The navigation elements of the Twitter app are placed in different locations on different mobile platforms . This confuses users who are accessing the social network via various mobile devices. Want to tweet on an iPhone? Go to the top right corner. Using a Windows Phone? The button is at the bottom. On an Android tablet? Just type at the bottom.
In short, improving user experience can enhance user engagement and even raise the overall popularity of the social media network. Let’s hope that the UI design of social media apps will continue to evolve and there’ll be more happy users! Don't forget to consider exactly how your your users will experience your product so put that in as note to talk to your developers about when you are defining an app.
Wondering what else to consider when you are building a mobile app?