October 19, 2011

Design Spirit of Google Ice Cream Sandwich aka Android 4.0

a single vanilla ice cream sandwichImage via WikipediaReading the reviews this morning things are very favorable towards Ice Cream Sandwich, aka ICS aka Android 4.0. The next generation Nexus device looks pretty snappy and nice.

If you want to get the skinny on the new features and bells and whistles, there are many sources out there; here are a couple:




The article I really want to talk about is the interview with Matias Duarte, the head designer of ICS. The post is Matias Duarte on the philosophy of Ice Cream Sandwich. In there you will find some really good gems. If you are strapped for time here are the nuggets that stuck with me about design philosophy at a high level.


Legacy
"Coming in and being put in charge of the design and UX for this enormously successful platform that now has years of legacy behind it. It’s completely unlike getting behind the steering wheel of a zippy, agile little car. It’s more like driving an aircraft carrier." He gestures as if he’s pushing a button, “Okay guys, turning left! Are we turning left yet?"
Although Android is now at version 4.0 it has a huge legacy to deal with. From a design standpoint this is a big challenge because decisions must be backward compatible to re-use a well known expression of the software world. It's also a big deal because of innovators dilemma, i.e. your current users will push you to improve what works for them and the non users voice still needs to be integrated.

"What is the soul of the new machine?"
"This isn’t a design or product question. It’s a philosophical question. What is this thing? What is itsupposed to do? How will it do it? How do we get there? I ask him if it was the first time anyone at Google had ever asked that question."
What I love about this questioning in the product design as a whole is that an experience needs to be authentic. In order to be authentic, soul searching is required. It's key to understand what the essence of the experience is to be in order to design for it.

Emotional Connection is Critical
"Matias says that the studies showed that users felt empowered by their devices, but often found Android phones overly complex. That they needed to invest more time in learning the phones, more time in becoming an expert. The phones also made users feel more aware of their limitations — they knew there was more they could do with the device, but couldn’t figure out how to unlock that power."
It's very interesting to see how a design can have unintended consequence in the mind and heart of users. In this case by wanting to give power to users Google made some of them feel dumb. Who wants to feel like they need to be a rocket scientist to use a product? In the design language and interactions, how do we find a way to say "this is simple", "this is how it's done".  This language the product uses to interact at every step of the way is there to make the emotional connection stronger and make the technology vanish!



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