Trouble in Flatworld


My mother gingerly taps the screen at arms length, as if lighting a firework, and then waits, flinching. And, as with a firework, only when she is absolutely sure that nothing is going to happen – and that could take some time – she tries again. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, repeatedly smashes her finger down on the glass with alarming force, speed and irritation:  Watching the elderly use smartphones is educational for people working in UX because, although these examples represent the extremes, even the most sophisticated digital native eventually falls into the ‘press-it-again-harder’ or the ‘let’s-see-if-it-does-anything’ camp, and members from both camps are asking….

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“Have I pressed the button or haven’t I?”

And there you have it, the Holy Grail of UX:  Insuring that a user has, with 100% certainty, performed the correct action completely and fully, and that the desired consequence will follow on at the appropriate time without the need for further action, and that this sequence is infinitely repeatable with the same level of certainty.

That is why flat design is a real challenge for action-critical interfaces.

Sheer, smooth surfaces and thin text, revealed as active or clickable only when hovered over are cool, but they aren’t clear.  Skeuomorphism on the other hand, may be so last year, but a pretend button, casting a pretend shadow which makes a fake clicky noise and changes tone when activated, is totally explicit.  And whilst Apple has gone flat (mostly) with iOS7, you will see that a lot of apps can’t yet make the jump – the interaction needed for the task the user wants to perform is too complex to reduce to the new brutalism of whimsy-free graphism.

So there is no accepted visual vocabulary in flat design as yet for a lot of complex interactions.  This is a big issue, although for Caplin Design it is not the most significant one.  Because, although trading itself is complex, the interactions are simple; mostly entering figures and pressing buttons.  So the issue is not complexity, but the need for certainty, you know….

 

 red-button-med-30

“Have I pressed the button or haven’t I?”

Of course, this doesn’t really matter if you’re gaming or playing a tune on your phone – what’s the worst that can happen?  But if you’re launching Ariadne or trading FX with grandma’s pension fund, it matters.  A lot.  People have got so focused on look and feel, that fashion-conscious changes that actually reduce usability have become acceptable in a surprising number of commonly-used interfaces.  Not with a Caplin interface though.  We would not expect anyone to run 100 metres in Manolo Blahnik stillettoes, and we don’t expect anyone to control significant and potentially very expensive financial activity without a fit-for-purpose UI: One that is designed to maximise speed and accuracy and minimize error and fatigue.

Caplin Design is developing a visual vocabulary to cope with new users and new tasks.  We are looking to use new styling to aid, rather than confuse, the user.  The calming down of the look and feel of lower priority, or less critical parts of a UI, which flat design inevitably does, allows us to guide the user to the things that matter, and be certain about what is happening.  Of course we will always want our work to be cool – we are designers after all – but never if it leaves the user asking….

 red-button-med-30

“Have I pressed the button or haven’t I?”

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