designik

The design around us

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satyenmitra asked: Woah, it took me 3 hours to read your blog, you are an alchemist (know-it-all-man). I would want my brother to meet you sometime soon, he is in 10th grade, interested in automation but is not focused on studies, makes a lot of short movies and has innovative ways to get done with things in smart ways and short time span. I showed him your etcetra album on fb, he was pretty impressed, hope to see you soon. Good luck, best wishes :)

:) I’m glad you took the time read this Satyen.. And would love to meet your brother, just to see his work. His interests are intriguing :) See ya!

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Bashable?

Mashable is amongst the most popular websites on the internet for news, information and resources related to digital media. Founded in 2005, the site reportedly receives approx. 20 million unique visitors every month and is considered amongst the most trusted source for happenings on the web, social media and technology front. The site recently went in for a redesign. The most drastic change was brought about to the homepage, where the entire news feed appears.

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On the surface, the site looks classier and modern than before. With a cleaner and wider design, minus the typical ads column, focus on the content seems enhanced. Mentioned below are some of the key pluses:

1. More visual content -  With images for every story, that too larger in size, the page looks more attractive and contemporary.

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2. Infinite scroll - Pagination has been replaced with an infinite scroll which is a good idea for such a feed-based site as pagination breaks the flow and slows down the browsing.

3. Responsive - A nice feature with specific focus on mobile and tablets. The 3-column design automatically jumps to a 2 and 1 column layout as the window size goes smaller. 

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With such elements and characteristics, the redesign seems to be a step in the right direction. But as you spend some time using the site, certain issues with the new design - particularly the interactivity - come to the fore. I’m putting across few points that have struck me as problematic:

1. Did I miss something? - With the full-width utilization and a 3-column layout, the page now throws much more content at the users. Since the columns aren’t aligned horizontally and have content in varying sizes, it becomes difficult to scan through them together. The problem is further accentuated with an infinite scroll, and one consistently feels ‘missing out’ on certain content on the page while scrolling down. For people looking out for interesting stuff on the page (irrespective of how it’s been categorized here), this doesn’t work at all. The pinterest-styled layout works for visual content, but not so well for mixed-media (image/text) content here.

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2. What’s important? - As per the rational provided by the Mashable team themselves: the column on the left presents the new stories, the middle column shows stories that progress to being popular, and the third column shows content with the most social engagement. Seems like a sound logic at first. But what this also implies is that the column on the right - which is visually most attractive - changes the least often as the most popular stories are few. And the column on the left - which presents the stories in the visually least important fashion - is updated most frequently. For people (like me) who are looking for interesting and fresh content, and come back to the site multiple times a day, this doesn’t work as the focus isn’t on what’s new. 

3. Ads everywhere - Rather than a dedicated column for ads, here the ads appear spread out within the 3 columns. This makes sense from a push-advertising perspective, but not from that of an end-user as these are irritating to see everywhere. They also break the flow of browsing and make the user jump between columns, further adding to the problem 1 here. 

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4. Content indicators removed - In the earlier design, the story titles included certain tags to help identify the content in the story. These have been removed now, though it’d been nice if they could have been retained in some form.

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Such interactive issues makes one see through the initial sheen of the redesign and wonder that if it does not help the users go through content in a more efficient and engaging manner, then how truly successful can it be considered. The current design is definitely visually more attractive and driven by latest trends in technology, graphics and marketing; but a context-driven user-centred perspective seems missing here in this exercise.

Inspite of definite improvements, the design needs more thought and consideration from the aspects of user’s informational needs and reading patterns. An eye-tracking exercise could be extremely helpful here to better understand how and when are the users moving through the story columns. It is unlikely that the new design will change anytime soon since it is a humongous effort for a site like Mashable, but here’s hoping for certain iterative improvements in the time to come.

Filed under Design Review design evolution design mashable Interaction Design social

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Flipping the Shopping Experience

Flipkart is a popular e-commerce portal in India, an Indian equivalent to Amazon in many ways. And beginning with books, they eventually moved to products like electronic devices, games and stationery over a few years and now even offer niche items like toys and posters.

They have a pretty straightforward and clean interface, which hasn’t changed much over time. And having bought some books and electronic items from them earlier, I never had much of a problem. But recently when I was checking out the newly introduced posters on the site, I realized that the browsing pattern on their site failed miserably for such a product type. The whole activity was extremely tedious and to filter out 2-3 good posters, it took me a couple of sittings! 

To make my point clear, let me explain how browsing in flipkart works. While going through the site, eventually any user lands up on a screen with a list of products, and upon clicking on any one of them is taken to a page with the details of the product (name, price, specifications) along with a small image (one or many). The image/s are usually pretty small in size and need to be clicked upon to view in a decent enough size as a pop-up.

In such a model, the images are given relatively less importance (multiple clicks needed to view image in a decent size) and once the user reaches the detail page of a product, it is extremely cumbersome to return back to the original position on the product listing page. This implies a behavioural assumption that the user generally chooses one product from the list and then spends time going through its details, and repeated to-and-fro movement is rare. In a way it also implies that the user generally knows what he/she is looking for, rather than browsing through the items in a vague fashion. 

This kind of interactivity works fine for products like books, cameras, mobile phones  etc. - items whose specifications/features/content are more important than the product images - and the users usually have certain references in terms of what they’re looking for. 

But for visual media like artworks and posters, where images are of prime importance and the user would generally browse through a large no. of products while making a selection - the currently offered interactivity fails. Being a category where the graphic quality of items (judged upon looking at the visual in a large size) is the key deciding factor, forcing a method that requires multiple clicks to view images and no cross-product navigation, is painful enough for the user to give up in just a little while.

Instead, what’s needed here is a way for the users to quickly browse through large-sized images across products - say using a slideshow (sample image below) - which would definitely be more satisfying and efficient in such a scenario. Some other product categories like Toys and Watches also have similar requirements of a different kind of interactivity in my opinion.

Looking at such a scenario, I believe what a site like flipkart - which has a wide product variety and is expanding - needs to do is offer different navigation and interaction models for different product categories best-suited for showcasing the items inside. Generic interactivity, though simpler to implement, does not make much business sense since the associated bad user experience can kill certain product categories, as demonstrated here. 

Thus designing and implementing a few customized interaction models - offering intuitive and quicker way for users to view and choose different products - can go a long way in improving sales, customer base and associated revenue for an e-commerce portal like Flipkart. It though needs to be ensured that the different patterns gel together as part of the same family, and offer a smooth transition from one to another. Flipkart’s music store Flyte is customized to certain extent, which is good to see. Here’s hoping for appropriate improvement in other categories as well.

Filed under Design Review Interaction Design design design evolution e-commerce Flipkart

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A Tool of Context

We all see, buy and use a number of products everyday. Many of these mass-manufactured products nowadays have different kinds of textures over them, which tend to go unnoticed. But as a designer, it is important to understand the significance and relevance of such tactile features to the product strategy, usage and perception.

Generally, the presence of such textures is for a couple of important design-related goals:

1. Functional: Textures help in gripping a surface, which in turn implicitly  indicate users where to hold a product from and also point out to the moving parts in a product. Textures can also help add strength to certain portions of the product.

2. Visual and Emotional: Different textures can offer certain kinds of aesthetic appeals to products, making them appear ‘sporty’, ‘industrial’ etc., and in turn invoking certain emotional associations with them.

But while working on a recent project, I realized a certain additional purpose, and a very important one, that can be associated with product textures from a design perspective:

3. Strategic: Textures can add certain amount of complexity to the design of the product, which in turn implies that they can help in making the product difficult to copy or avoid counterfeiting. The act of counterfeiting is usually carried out by small-timers who try to create replicas of the product through a ‘jugaad’ process wherein they roughly try to gauge the dimensions/features and create fake copies. A unique and intricate texture can be difficult for such operators to copy and replicate.

Textures are one of those subtle but powerful design tools that do much more than they might seem capable of. So the next time you see a texture on a product, do realize that it might have a very strong reason to be there, probably more than what just meets the eye.

Filed under design design intervention product design industrial design

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Pinterested?

Pinterest (http://pinterest.com) is a new social-networking platform that has appeared very recently and exploded on to the scene; gaining nearly 13 million users in a very short time. Being a new phenomenon, it makes sense to have a closer look at this new interactive space and understand what it is meant for, what factors contribute to it’s popularity and whether you & I should be a part of it.

What is it about?

Pinterest is basically a social-networking site for visual media. It is essentially a bookmarking tool using which you can post visuals that you come across and like over the internet on to your page. People create ‘Boards’ - such as Art, Clothing, Typography - and ‘pin’ images (and even videos) onto these boards. Being connected to Facebook/Twitter, you’re automatically connected to few of your friends from the two platforms to get you going. The homepage of any person shows the visuals pinned by person him/her-self and the people he/she is following.

Why is it popular?

Images and Videos form the most popular media amongst people. They offer instant gratification and require minimum time to go through, as compared to reading - it is easy to notice that images/videos form the most popular content on sites like facebook as well. And it requires minimal effort here - one doesn’t need to create stuff - you can just put across the cool visuals you find on the net. No authentication, no attribution - it’s open and quick.

How does it differ from other networking tools?

Pinterest though quite different, but in a way is closer to Twitter than Facebook or Google+. You don’t share much of personal details, you don’t necessarily follow people you know, and you can’t stop people from following you. It is a one-way stream - share cool images and gain followers.

Actually rather than being a networking space, it is more of a content platform since the people behind the content rarely come into the picture. 

Who should be a part of it?

Being an extremely visual platform, it automatically becomes an attractive space for people from creative streams - arts, photography, design, fashion etc. But in terms of interesting content, it has something to offer to everyone - as images can be cute, hilarious, mesmerizing and more. Visual inspiration is for everyone.

P.S. Definitely a place for people close to the epicentre of marriage - women (or men :P) planning to get married and newly-weds looking to decorate their house.

What to expect?

Depends on the interests you express in your account and the people you follow - cute images of kids or animals, models showing pretty clothes, classy landscape photographs etc. There is a lot of content being shared by people, which can make you spend a lot of time here without realization.

What not to expect?

Being the medium it is, words don’t have much place on Pinterest; unless they’re on a poster. Thus a lot of intellectual content gets excluded, as it is essentially not in a visual format. Pinterest is thus a place where you might come looking for certain superficial gratification or inspiration but never for an intellectual dialogue or relevant information.

Role of design?

Pinterest is a well-designed space. The overall concept is well-thought and made extremely simple and straightforward with a nicely designed interface. It is very easy to get lost and mesmerized in the sea of visuals that have been placed in a neat and clean grid. The actions are few and easy to understand. Overall, the ambiguities are few. The design is contemporary, functional and appreciable.

Issues?

Though interesting, in my opinion it is still a dispensable-kind of platform for many people. It is inviting, but not very engaging. It doesn’t have the kind of recall that facebook and twitter has to pull people back continuously. Also, the social aspect to it needs tightening; right now it seems to be way too far in the backdrop as compared to the content. From what I’ve seen till now, there is hardly any dialogue between people here. Maybe these aspects will become clearer as the platform matures.

In terms of the interface, the Search is a bit fuzzy and difficult to comprehend. You do understand how it works with images, but not with people. It is tough to find your facebook friends here.

Conclusion:

Pinterest is a nice example of how a niche need or tendency of people can be turned into a new and relevant product. In the sea of the Youtubes, Facebooks and Twitters, it is an idea that could’ve been easily lost. But thankfully, it represents a very focused approach and clear thinking - from the need to conceptualization to execution. 

Do try out Pinterest, let me know if you need an invite.

Filed under Design Design Review Interaction Design Product Review Social Networking

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Lifting the Ambiguity

Lifts or Elevators are ubiquitous. And though they might seem to be the simplest of devices to operate and use; its not funny to see the kind of lack of understanding that is prevalent with respect to the two basic buttons - Arrow up (to go up), Arrow Down (to go down) - associated with its usage. I have seen the most high-profile of people getting their basics wrong over these; some being confident enough to even educate others in their erroneous method of usage. 

Actually to think of it, it’s fairly easy to get confused if you haven’t been ‘told’ what those buttons mean. Many people tend to think that they need to “call the lift to their floor”, for which they tend to press the incorrect button. They are unaware of the fact that the buttons are meant to indicate the direction in which one wants to go, and are not related to the momentary position of the elevator in any way. Some people are so confused with the system that they just blankly press both the buttons every time, or confirm with the people inside which way the elevator is going before entering. Thus the fact is, there is a disconnect; and it’s not the user’s fault. And this confusion results in unnecessary stoppages, and people getting on lifts in the incorrect directions; thus resulting in wastage of power and time.

So I thought of ideating on some alternative methods that could help avoid such a state of confusion over these buttons. Mentioned below are some simple ideas that attempt to help people call the elevators in an intuitively more informed and efficient manner:

1. The most straightforward method to tackle this issue would be to introduce such elements that cannot cause confusion or have the least probability to do so. One such solution would be to just put the same panel that exists inside the lift - to indicate the floor to go to - outside on every floor. All the user would have to do is press the particular floor button, and the lift would stop for the purpose when travelling in the particular direction. Simple enough. And maybe the panel inside the lift could be removed altogether if such panels exist outside on every floor. But this solution mandates additional cost, and hence has it’s own limitations.

2. Probably the biggest factor behind the confusion here are the graphics themselves - the arrow indicators. They just by themselves offer vague information of their purpose. One of ideas here could be to use text on the buttons instead. For example, having text such as ‘I want to go Up’ & ‘I want to go Down’ on the buttons could reduce ambiguity as it makes the actions more personal & identifiable. This solution though straightforward, is language-dependent, and hence is not that universal in nature as the icons. 

3. A quirky way to deal with this issue could be by taking away the information that causes this confusion - the floor indicator - it is what causes people to try and bring the lift up/down to their floor. But the floor indicator has a bit more relevance, as it also gives the user an idea of the amount of time the lift will take to reach his/her floor. So, another alternative could be to replace the floor indicator with a time indicator, which tells approx. how long will the lift take to reach one’s floor. At any point of time, the timer would show the amount of time it would take the lit to reach the floor considering the no. of intermediate stops other people have called out for. As the stops increase, the time increases. The user anyways can’t do much about these scenarios even now. This particular solution would be far more informative and contextual for the waiting user, though it has it’s own set of technical requirements.

All these alternatives meet the initial goal that was set-up, and have their own set of positive characteristics as well as technical requirements. And though the current system is fairly universal the world over, it’d be nice to see an interesting alternative in place somewhere that takes care of this ambiguity (for some) and offers a more intuitive system for people to use. 

Filed under Design Intervention design ideas

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Dig your Wallet?

Well I haven’t designed a Wallet ever, but I do always use one, and hence have bought quite a few of them in the past. And every time I’m at the stores having a look around, I’m kind of surprised upon seeing certain widely-prevalent elements in their designs which make very little sense. They appear to be predominantly designed for people with a certain kind of a lifestyle only, which is unfair and illogical. So I thought I’ll try to think of some basic pointers which in my opinion and as per my experience should be considered while designing men’s wallets. Here we go:

1. Yes, we do use coins!

I’m quite surprised to see the no. of wallets in the market that either don’t offer any provision for storing coins or are extremely ill-equipped for the purpose. Coins do fatten up the wallet but to discourage their storage through such measures is quite ridiculous. Loose change is needed for a no. of purposes here in India and hence should definitely be considered for. A well-designed enclosure that allows a decent no. of coins to be stored along with ensuring that they are uniformly spread across the surface of the wallet (keeping it thin), rather than sagging down to one-end, would be lovely. 

2. No, the male posterior isn’t flat.

Well that’s a well-known fact. So there is no point making a flat product if it’s not going stay flat. Wallets start warping awkwardly the moment we start using them, and eventually taken on some weird shapes depending on how the items inside are place for long. How about a more complimentary form though still ensuring that items like credit/visiting cards retain their flat shape? 

3. Make it thin.

Nothing feels worse than a fat wallet, no matter what the advantage. So features that add up to that thickness like additional folds (tri-fold wallets), thick material, loop buttons etc. should be avoided in my opinion. Intelligent distribution of space within the wallet, as well as more efficient ways to store items (such as coins) can also counter unnecessary addition of bulk. 

4. Allow customization.

The kind of items and their quantities that people carry in their wallets vary; some carry a lot many credit/debit cards, some prefer to carry a lot of coins for their own practical reasons, while many like to carry a lot of cash, and so on. So other than offering different variations of wallets for all these different people, it could be a good idea to allow people to customize their wallet e.g. the wallet could comprise of large open areas which people can customize using some of the accessories that come along at the time of buying. It could be an interesting experiment to see how people react to freedom of this sort.

5. Expandable Spaces

Certain items that we carry in our wallets like coins, cash tend to undergo quite a bit of variation, from a lot to none. Thus rather than permanently allocating certain volume to them, it would be good idea to offer a detailing that allows certain areas to expand when needed e.g. use of a flexible material at the edges that allows the space to expand when stuffed with more than normal quantities.

Thus to summarize, a well-designed wallet for standard usage should adhere to the following basic functional characteristics :

* gives an impression of being capable of storing all that the customer wants to in an adequate manner, at the time of buying. 

* is comfortable and convenient to use and carry.

* allows customization as per personal needs and under certain circumstances.

* looks good even when used over time.

Filed under Design Review Design Ideas

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5 Reasons why Google+ is a disappointment

I have been exploring Google+ since a few months now. And inspite of some of its much talked-about features like the advanced security settings and ‘Hangout’, somehow I haven’t really felt a real inclination to go back to it. So I made an attempt to understand why would that be the case. Here are a few thoughts:

1. What’s new here?

To me, the biggest issue or disappointment with Google+ is the lack of real innovation. I just don’t see anything ‘new to do’ here. Everything that I can do here is what I can do on facebook as well - share thoughts (status message), photos, videos, links, like (+1) stuff; and the interface is just too similar as well. There doesn’t seem to be anything compelling enough to get me to shift over to this place and build a social network from scratch. In the past, people moved over from platforms like Orkut to Facebook because of some real big changes to the social experience, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I was hoping to see some unique ways of expressing myself or reaching out to people in a way that hasn’t been done before. 

Above: Comparison of their Status Bars.

Above: Comparison of similar Posts on both platforms.

2. Is it like Facebook or is it like Twitter?

Facebook and Twitter are very distinct platforms, though they might have their commonalities. Facebook is where you become ‘friends’ - people get to know a lot about you and vice-versa. Hence somewhere there is certain amount of intimacy that comes into the picture. But Twitter is a platform where you ‘follow’ and ‘get followed’. You say something and people hear - it is more like a ‘leader and supporters’ model. You don’t necessarily need to or get to personally know the people who follow you; hence there isn’t much of intimacy.

Now, on Google+ they have attempted to merge these two - you can connect to people in a Facebook way (so that they can see your photos/statuses/likes etc.); or you can follow them, as in Twitter, wherein you just get to see what they have shared publicly. Though an interesting idea, this muddles up the overall theme of the platform in my opinion. Mixing friends and strangers on the same stage is risky as interaction with these are two are very different activities. It also greatly adds to the overall complexity of the product (explained later as well).

3. Does it make social-networking simpler?

Google+ gives you the provision to create separate groups within the people who you have connected with. It is an advantage that allows you to share stuff with only those people that you want to. Sounds simple isn’t it? But it isn’t that simple after all in my opinion. Firstly, categorizing people into buckets is a task that is extremely difficult - even if you can put each person in multiple buckets; having tried it myself. People categorize others at many levels and on the basis of different criteria, which again changes under scenarios. For example, I might have a good friend at office, with whom I share a lot of non-sensical stuff (a contradiction), but maybe I wouldn’t want to joke about the office/the people there in front of him (a rider) - so which clearly-defined bucket do I put him in? A simple way to segregate the lot is not necessarily simple.

And another very important thing to be considered is the cognitive load that such a categorization adds to the product. I believe it would add a lot of thinking on the user’s part everytime he/she adds a new contact, thinking which circle to put him into, and the act would be repeated again every time he/she shares anything (every status msg/photo/video..). Too much thinking, don’t you think? Maybe.

Above: Sample categorization of Contacts.

4. Does it map actual relationships?

When someone adds you in their circles, you never get to know in what circle has that person done so. So how would you know what kind of relationship is that person trying to build? Is he trying to be friends or just following you? What happens if I get to see someone else’s Google+ page and realize the person whom I had added as a Friend has me as an Acquaintance?

Relationships work two-ways. The intentions have to be transparent, not matter how intimate or formal. Here the intentions never becomes clear.

Above: A sample notification of addition by a contact.

5. Does the information/presentation make more sense? 

On the face of it, the interface is fairly minimalistic and clean, but there are places wherein the information presentation is confusing and can definitely be improved.

Above: Certain Terminologies hold no immediate meaning to the users.

Above: Photo Options on the left are again confusing.

Above: Google+ comments too look cluttered (e.g. too many numbers: +1 / +4 / 1share / 3comments); Facebook on the other hand, through usage of background colour and icons, has them better presented.

Based on the thoughts above, I personally feel Google will have to pull out some real tricks to bring this product to beat the well-established players, maybe by bringing in some elements from its other popular products. Though I have read some raving reviews on the web for Google+, somehow it hasn’t been able to pull me back - it’s still not a breakthrough product for me. Maybe i’ll wait and watch. 

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What does your movie ticket say?

Movie Tickets are one of those items that no one really pays a lot of attention to. They have a fairly short life span if you think about it. But that doesn’t take away the practical need and timely relevance of the various details over them. And like any other product that has a certain purpose attached to it for common people, these need to be designed in accordance with the specific needs of these users.

Movie tickets have a variety of important information to present to different people under varying circumstances. These people primarily comprise of two groups only: the Customer and the Cinema Staff. And the relevant details to each vary under different circumstances. To better understand the various needs from this product by the users, let’s have a closer look at some of the key scenarios of use:

# Situation1: At the counter, customer buying the ticket. 

Customer:

Is it the correct Movie? - Movie Name

Am I (or the Kids) eligible? - Viewership Rating

Is it for the correct day and time? - Show Date & Time

How much do I have to Pay? - Price

Cinema Staff:

None (since details are checked on the computer before printing the ticket).

# Situation 2: Customer has bought the tickets, but not entered the Cinema as yet.

Customer:

When is my show? - Show Time (the Day/Date is usually the same or known)

# Situation 3: Customer entering the Cinema, getting the ticket checked.

Customer: 

Which way is my Screen? - Screen No.

Cinema Staff:

Is it the right time for him/her to enter? - Show Date & Time

Is this person eligible for this movie? - Viewership Rating

Which way is the Screen? - Screen No.

# Situation 4: Customer entering the particular Hall, to be seated.

Customer:

Where do I sit? - Seat No.

Cinema Staff:

Is this person in the right screen? - Screen No./Movie Name

Where is he/she supposed to sit? - Seat No.

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Now if we look carefully at these realizations, we can arrive at certain inferences here:

Importance

- Show Time, Screen No. and Seat No. are the most important details (repeatedly checked or critical).

- The Show Date, Movie Name and Viewership Rating come next (checked maybe just once or so and/or usually remembered).

- Price is of least importance among them (rarely seen once paid).

Time of Relevance

- From a Customer’s perspective: Movie Name, Viewership Rating, Show Date, Show Time and Price are important before entering the cinema, while Screen No. and Seat No. become key once inside.

Association

- Details like Show Date & Show Time, as well as Screen No. & Seat No. being intuitively associated, should logically be placed together on the ticket.

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Considering the above mentioned conclusions, shown below is a sample design that could potentially represent be a better way of presenting information on a Movie Ticket:

(Please note it represents a sample from a structure/layout perspective only; a lot of visual exploration can further be carried out). 

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Mentioned below are a few merits of this arrangement of details from a design and usability perspective:

- A vertical and left-aligned display aids scanning and findability, as we naturally read from left to right and top to bottom.

- The most important details have been indicated using a bigger font size and made bold. They would naturally catch more attention than the rest. The font sizes used on the ticket are in accordance with this criterion.

- There is a clear distinction between information that holds relevance for customers before and after entering the cinema (top and bottom). Also, the details that need to be read inside the cinema –extremely dark and low on light, have been shown on white background for better contrast and ease of reading.

- Viewership Rating has been emphasized through red colour - as an alert. It is a detail that should catch attention only when needed (adults only), and could be less conspicuous otherwise.

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Shown below are some of the currently available tickets of cinemas in Mumbai:

imageimage

Though none of the needed information is missing, it is fairly apparent that the required emphasis on the important details as well a relevant structure is missing here (even if we ignore the clutter around).

Going out for a movie is supposed to be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, and though not a make-or-break criteria, a better and unique ticket design can add its own small qualitative layer of positivity on the overall experience by helping people find information easily, waste less time and make fewer mistakes. Here’s hoping for a sensible and more user-friendly change soon.

Filed under Design Review design ideas

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One Home, too many Home Screens

Multiple Homescreens are nowadays commonly found in high-end portable digital devices like the smartphones and tablets. They are considered amongst the attractive features of a device with new gadgets increasingly having more no. of screens. The new iPhone/iPad is supposed to have 11 home screens.

The rational for having multiple homepages is pretty straightforward: with increasingly sophisticated devices allowing people to install a lot many applications and games, more amount of real estate is required for the user to place the icons for regular access.

But whether multiple homescreens are the right solution for the purpose is debatable in my opinion, especially with respect to the issue of ‘Findability’. Let’s envision a scenario: If i’m using an iPhone, with 11 screens, and I suddenly feel like playing a particular game or opening a particular document saved on one of the screens, it would require me to flip through the various screens (maybe 10 swipes), scanning each one of them individually, till I find the particular icon/file. Simple enough, but not the best method always I’d say.

People do try to remember and organize stuff to help themselves out (though many don’t). Even if we assume that people have taken the pain of categorizing icons & files across the screens as per certain themes (e.g. office/multimedia/networking), it still doesn’t take away the fundamental issue with the pattern itself: lack of user’s understanding of the relative orientation of these screens. If I’m having one screen in front of me, which way do I start swiping to quickly find the item that I’m searching for? Especially if one is in a hurry, this can be quite bugging, as it makes you ‘think’ everytime. The indicator dots at the bottom don’t help much. 

If we look at the ways the issue of ‘findability’ has been addressed at other platforms, there are a no. of examples that can be pointed out:

- Location of certain important/popular items tend to be fixed e.g. On the desktop, certain key items like My Computer, My Documents etc. tend to have a fixed location, under the Start Menu or as icons on the desktop.

 

- On e-commerce websites, there is the option to view items in ‘Grid’ (focused on images) or ‘List’ view (focused on text/name). We also use the same variation while searching for files on our computer; grid view is helpful while looking out visually, while List/Detail view becomes relevant when the name or certain file detail is the reference.

- On email clients (gmail, yahoo), the items are listed by default as per date/time; always showing the latest ones first.

- While searching for files on the desktop; we tend to sort items as per ‘Type’ (Folders, Word, PDFs etc.) which shortens the scope/list for the user to look into.

Thus taking inspiration from these examples, there can certainly be few design alternatives that can be tried out to help the users quickly find they’re looking for on their phone/tablet without necessitating any forced methods of organization. It is important to remember that the attempt here is to help the user avoid 7-10 swipes (between multiple screens), avoid the dilemma of thinking everytime, and save time.

- Allowing the users to fix the location for certain icons (e.g. a desired portion of the screens - 1/2 rows), which doesn’t change when the screens are flipped through, and could contain the most important/popular items of the user.

- Allowing the user to switch to List view, with items across all screens listed out collectively (using a scroll). The files could be sorted as per their ‘type’ (games/applications/documents) to help shorten the search. This could be specifically beneficial when the files becomes a lot in number. Probably, rather than having multiple home screens, one could even choose to retain this as the default view. 

- Allow user to allocate names (as per their personal organization methodology) to the different home screens, and further provide short-cuts to them from the default home screen. Showing a couple of most popular icons from each screen alongside could further help in quick identification and recall.

Just a few quick ideas which probably could be worked upon considering that we’re moving towards more amount of content on our portable devices, with increasingly bigger screen sizes, and hence more complicated scenarios.

Filed under Design Review Design Ideas