Through the Cerebrum of Xavier (Android Design & UI)
It's been awhile since I've done a full feature. I was waiting, what was I going to write about next? I'm sure we are all tired of talking about the Moto X, battery life, HTC One, and the GS4. Let's look ahead, let's skip 4.3 and go straight to October - November for KLP. Let's get excited about the launch event of a new Nexus, let's get excited about Matias Duarte and his vision for Android. Even more so let's talk about how Android really, needs to evolve in UI. This is my first post for my new editorials called "Through the Cerebrum of Xavier" Enjoy the feature. . .
What is UI? User interface right? How about UX? - How do we define design? Is design apart of function or is it simply cosmetic? I want to explore the world of Android UI, let's take a trip through my cerebrum. (Android Design & UI).
- Android - Color, Flourish, & Transparencies
If we take a look at Android in the past we may think it looks absolutely terrible. Everything from the icons, to the wallpaper, to the horrible gingerbread like menus. This is partially true. Design wise it does look pretty bad. However Android did one thing correct in it's beginning stages that it does completely wrong now. That's color. Android has become dark, robotic, and mechanic. Stock in general, pure Android. Compared to iOS 7 and TouchWiz, the stock UI is a dark place.
Let's take a look. . .
NOW. . Let's take a look at Stock.
I mean really.
Some are under the sadly mistaken impression that Android is dark due to AMOLED screens. You are wrong, the designers did not say, "Hey let's make it dark to accommodate, one piece of tech" in this case, the display.
OEM's like HTC and Samsung have even tired to make it feel more homey, more welcoming, more warm. In many cases so has Google. Look at Google Now, & Google Music. However it's not enough, there are not enough flourishes. There are no transparencies, and delightful bright colors throughout the UI elements. It's just dark and cold. At least to the average consumer. Even the keyboard is dark.
Above is the card UI. Let's take a look at, how it's used properly, and then take a look at how it's used in the worse possible way.
Here's the proper way, keep in mind Google has used bright colors, a touch of flourish, however there's a lack of transparency.
Below is a dev SERIOUSLY, taking the design guide and Effing it all up.
Now, we have identified what's wrong and what's right (this can be subjective) let's take a look at a few more flaws that detract from the homey and warm feeling that brings consumers in. Why would any consumer want to use any SMS tool that looks like the above. It's confusing and an utter mess. It's inconsistent and not simple at all. Lastly there are too many ways to do one thing, and those cards don't act like the ones in Google Now.
So let's say Google made all these changes throughout the Android UI. There are still two more things that need to be addressed. 4.3 Is said to bring a Transparent Status bar and Nav bar at the bottom. There's our transparency. Swiping up from home and seeing "Google" in a little white circle is a delightful flourish.
Android does not need to be a color splash, it just needs to be brighter. It needs flourish, it needs to take advantage of the primary colors of Google, it needs to be flattened and know where shadows are appropriate, it needs to make proper use of transparencies. Android needs to feel warm.
Even more so we are still fighting to make Android consistent.
- Navigation, Beautiful Apps, Consistency
SO- Let's pretend for awhile that we've made Android beautiful in terms of colors, and we've finally got a grip on the card UI and how to use it. WHAT'S NEXT?? Let' take a look at
Here's one of the most beautiful Android apps, of course designed by Google.
Now let's take a look at, Gmail.
Ok, NOW, let's take a look at what Gmail would like like if it was consistent with Google + adding flourish, in this case "Circles" as the contact icon, and taking slight appropriate advantage of the Card UI or Holo UI (Whatever you want to call it) - I actually prefer to say it's an evolution of Holo.
Here's the one thing this designer did wrong. The background for the navigation drawer is dark. I personally would prefer it dark, however this is not about me. By default it should be warm and welcoming and inviting, it should be bright or white like the rest of our pretend redesigned UI. However it's not. If you noticed Google made their drawer bright. I believe an option should be given for those who would prefer a dark setting, that option can be selected when the app is first opened after an install, or someplace under settings.
I don't think some developers on Android get it, make your apps beautiful. Make them consistent with the rest of Android. Brighten them up. Beauty is more than skin deep, there are some apps that are pretty but when it comes to function they are a bag of struggle. Some apps are beautiful, but using them makes no sense. Sadly, this is a topic for another day. Android needs more beautiful apps.
Ever notice how certain things on Android don't work the same. For example the Nav Drawer, all of them see to have a different pull trigger, leaving me wondering how do I pull to open it. Is it from the edge of the screen? Is it just a quick swipe to the side? Why does one app have a drawer on the right, but the other has it on the left, and then another has one on the right and left? What's going on?? Why does Android lack constancy? Should this be solved? Or is it all apart of giving devs and the users options. Should all our apps work the same?
Just thought I would give you something to think about.
On one device I swipe up from my Nav bar below my screen to access Google Now. Just a simple swipe. On another device I hold down home to access Google Now. On the next device there are only two Nav keys, one is "Home" to the right and the other is "Back" to the left. (Why is the back button STILL no consistent?) - Anyways, on this device I swipe up from the home button on the left to access Google now. So, even my hardware on Android is not consistent, so therefore my software experience can never be. Well actually that's not true. . . .
Let's leave our pretend world and focus on what is.
- Android UI
If HTC, Sony, LG, Samsung, etc all made phones without buttons and used the Nav bar at the bottom, we could live in a better more consistent world of Android UI. However to differentiate they don't, or they won't. If Google made them, that would be a different story. However not everyone like me will like on screen buttons. Some prefer hardware buttons and the likes. That's fine too. As long as there's back, home, and task switcher in the correct order this should not be an issue. HTC was still able to program their home button to do a swipe up gesture.
The Magazine UI-
Matais spent a lot of time talking about the Mag UI, it's mostly seen in the stock dialer/contacts apps on Android. I was hoping they would add that to the play store also, directly from Google. I wonder if this will be his vision for KLP since he has not even scratched the surface of what he wants to do. Let's say we have Holo Evolved aka Cards, then we add in our new drawer system, next we kick the Mag UI into full gear on Android. Everything is big bold pictures, where would that leave us. Let's not forget the overflow menu which devs still can't seem to get right. There's entirely too much going on. Sometimes when you pull the drawer it covers up more of the screen than the other drawer did in another app. How would the Mag UI fit into all of this. Of course I am speculating that he Matias still want's to continue with that UI idea.
The Android UI has come so far yet it has such a long, long way to go. I wish every OEM would use the standard notification bar, but they won't.
There is a way for OEM's to still do what they do, without touching Androids core UI. Add all their features as app, and gestures, etc, however leave the UI alone. Then again Touch Wiz is bright, and Android could use a little of that.
So there you have it. . .
Is it all in our minds? If there is too much consistency are we thereby ruining choice? Or is Android such a mess it makes it hard for us to even begin to define Design and UI. Apple and Microsoft while both fragmented in their OS versions still run a consistent UI. Maybe UX is UI, we can't know for sure what will happen with Android and it's design, until Google does something about Android's old and cold design and UI, we can only ROM, create launchers and themes and ponder the possibilities through our cerebrum...