As we shift towards a world where 'everything desktop' is expected on the tablet, we're looking at different ways of approaching design for the mobile context. Anyone who has designed in this realm before knows that mobile comes with a completely different set of expectations, motivations, and affordances. Personally, I don't have a lot of experience designing for anything other than print or web, so when I got my first iPad project I was suddenly faced with a very high learning curve.
Having come a long way from where I started, I thought I might share the top 3 things I've learned so far.
1. You don't realize how much you defer to tooltips until you find out they don't exist.
Whenever someone would ask me how a user would know what icon 'x' meant, I always had tooltips as my go-to answer. However, not being able to hover on an iPad is a blessing! I find that tooltips are usually a symptom of deeper usability issues; The second a user has to think "Hmmm, maybe if I hover over this I will get a clue!" something has gone off the rails. So–unless this is a game where users are supposed
to be confused–not relying on tooltips has been a great push for usability and I will definitely second guess their presence on the web for now on.
2. Cursors are my enemy (for now).
Cursors are exact. They let you click on really tiny things next to other really tiny things and for the most part come in the same shape and size. In contrast, our fingers do not and it's these limited and unpredictable modes of input that have replaced the cursor. What I came to discover was that the further I got away from computers during the early stages of the project the easier it was for me to design. When we were tasked with wireframing the interface I felt most productive hand-drawing on printed iPad templates and overlaying paper cutouts of iOS elements. Being able to, not only work at 100% scale, but also emulate the orientation and finger input methods played a big factor into the decisions we made.
3. Designing for the tablet on the tablet? Yes, please!
While we felt like we had a good understanding of the interface's framework from our paper prototyping, we still had difficulty judging how natural and intuitive our app would feel. Still not trusting the cursor, we moved over to an iPad app (called Blueprint) that allowed us to storyboard our ideas and turn it into a working prototype. Now we were able to tap buttons and swipe popovers on the iPad at scale! This was a really cool experience and further informed our design choices.
We are still at this stage in the process, which is probably why I only have 3 big takeaways from this project so far, but I foresee a rekindling of my friendship with the cursor in the near future. After all, I would go insane trying to get a pixel perfect design spec out of an iPad with my