When it comes to technological solutions, in particular mobile applications and other highly interactive platforms, creative designers must play a very unique role. Gone are the days, for the most part, of static HTML websites; applications that merely require a creative “skin” to hide the back-end from users. On the contrary, great mobile applications are developed with the user at the forefront, striving to enhance usability and intuitive controls with a sexy design that leaves a lasting impression on the end user. This is called user experience, focusing on the experiential, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction. Great user experience is achieved through the balance of two facets: a person’s unique perceptions of the application as a whole, the emotional side, and the utilitarian aspects including ease of use and efficiency, or the technical side.
User experience design for mobile applications is particularly intricate due to the inherent constraints of the hardware and software. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have limited display real estate, so solutions must be as streamlined and intuitive as possible on a screen that is much smaller than the usual desktop application. For the most part, mobile apps are developed for more than one operating system (OS) and device, forcing designers to consider creative ways to address a variety of platforms without sacrificing the integrity of the application.
Creative and Development: Downfalls of Compartmentalization
For the creative aspects of mobile applications, many choose to hire a creative design agency to provide the look and feel of the application and a separate technology provider to develop the back-end. Creative agencies are responsible for the branding fundamentals, such as color comps, button styles and other graphic elements of the application. These artists excel at strategically building visually stunning designs that have the power to positively impact the user experience of an application, but there are some fundamental holes in this approach.
Because many designers are inexperienced at back-end development, they are unable to adopt a developmental mindset when creating the user interface elements of an application. In other words, they don’t always understand the unique restraints of the technological framework of an application.
Creative agencies focus on the visual aspects of the user experience, but aren’t always able to account for the functional side of user experience as well. The resulting creative aspects can become problematic when they are integrated into the final application because the initial designs were not tailored to the particular developmental framework.
In this situation, sometimes some of the user interface controls that are created by the agency may create additional, otherwise unnecessary development hours to ensure seamless integration of the front and back end. For example, the creative assets provided for an app in development have data input screens that include fields for Name, Address, and Date of Birth. Later when a developer is looking at the database in use for the application, it is discovered that a field for Email Address is also needed. The developers must then request a new screen design including that field from the creative agency, thus adding additional hours to the budget. If the creative group were working in tandem with the mobile developers, these issues would be addressed ahead of time. Though this is a rather specific and seemingly inconsequential example, for larger apps with many screens, data inputs and outputs, etc., one can imagine how oversights like this could turn into a much larger beast.
Furthermore, the graphics and workflows provided by a separate creative agency may lay the tracks for functionality and controls in the back-end that are more complex than they have to be, or more time-consuming than the development budget allots for.
On the other side of the coin, software engineers who develop the technical groundwork and functionality of an application aren’t always focused on the front-end elements of the application when they aren’t working in tandem with creative services. Complex hardware integrations, unique controls and other back-end functionality can be lost to the user if the front end doesn’t match. This can result in a disjointed application that doesn’t reach its full potential for a technical innovation and great user experience.
Artistry and Engineering
A more holistic approach to mobile application development is to facilitate constant collaboration between the creative and development teams from project kickoff to completion. At Amadeus Consulting, we believe that the best software is a result of the intersection of art and engineering; technically advanced software that integrates great user experience seamlessly. Embracing this fundamental relationship and enabling cross-pollination between these teams through unique project timelines and development scrums is beneficial not only to the applications we create, but also to the growth of each developer and designer’s skill-set and methodology.
This dynamic allows us to provide clients with a variety of tools to help visualize their application. Typical look and feel deliverables like wireframes and style boards only exhibit the visual dimension of a solution, so they alone are an inadequate representation of the entire user experience. Our designers utilize their technical skillset to collaborate with developers on workflow and sitemap deliverables to showcase the functional and utilitarian aspects of the app.
Both the development and creative processes are iterative in nature, not only within each project lifecycle, but from project to project. Constant refinements and adjustments to operations, tools and project management ensure that each client solution is brought to fruition and that the next project benefits as a result.
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To read more about this topic and see examples of user interface designs from some of our top mobile clients, download the Artistry and Engineering whitepaper on our website today!