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Product Development

What To Keep In Mind While Designing A Cross Platform Application?

Amit Ashwini

When designing for multiple platforms, the most significant challenge is balancing the consistency of functionality and branding with the conventions of individual platforms. iOS, Android, Web, and others all contain their own unique guidelines, users, and devices. Without the right balance, your app may end up hard to use or feel out of place. Additionally, the need to work concurrently often arises, even though ideally it's considered best to work on more than one platform sequentially. Below are a few pointers that have helped us through some of the challenges while we were juggling different platforms.

1. You're meant to be responsive to the user, not the device.

Responsive design has made it possible for us to create digital experiences which adapt to our screen of choice. Be it mobile-first or a desktop experience adapted to a smaller screen, the results start to look very much the same. However, there is actually an important part of this “same,” and another part that isn’t. But we have a hard time predicting certain user reactions and preferences, so in a bid to please them, we offer customizability. But the key here is not to make your user work. Judge what your user’s preference would be and make that decision for them. For this to come naturally, you need to learn to be responsive to the user rather than the device.

2. Consistency seems to be the driving force behind Responsive Design, but don’t let that limit you.

Responsive design involves a great deal of familiarity and branding efforts. The whole point is for your users to recognize how to use and navigate your services while recognizing them from a visual perspective going for seamless brand recognition and integration on all fronts. Even gestures are being fought over in the name of brand feature by a few well-known smartphone manufacturers. Originally, responsive design spoke of the inter-operational ability of software programs to run on several platforms. But this doesn’t mean the same thinking must drive cross-platform design and responsive design. To reduce inconsistencies, responsive design has pushed for access anywhere, similarity everywhere. When we apply this to cross-platform services, it restrains us from adding extra value to a platform experience. Consistency fails to recognize that for different situations, change will sit more naturally with the user. Certain services released on various platforms have taken great advantage of this. Mobile devices, TV screens, Laptops, cinemas, etc. still offer us differences. Of course, delivering on function and ultimately user requirements needn’t be a differentiating factor for all digital experiences, but for some, it must.

3. When designing for Android, forget iOS.

For the sake of design consistency, we might end up taking iOS designs and recreating the very same design on the Android platform or vice versa. Mimicking other platforms in the process is a common pitfall of designing an app for another OS. We come across this quite a lot in Android apps which have been ported from iOS apps. Pay especially close attention to navigation. Give some thought to how you will have to adjust the navigation within your application to feel “right” on each platform.

4. Maintaining branding consistency

The fastest approach is to follow brand specific designs strictly. But remember this is the fastest approach only in the UI design sense, when it comes to implementing views or elements, it will cost time and money as your developer needs to create custom views that look the same on all platforms. Using libraries provided by the SDK, a particular view might be easy to create on one platform, while a custom view will need to be created on the other so both views can look alike. Maintaining a consistent design across platforms allows the user to interact with your app without having to figure out much. The problem here is, consistent design is often misunderstood. We must look at design consistency as an experience. To provide a quality experience to users it’s necessary to be consistent in user interface, messaging, and content across a brand’s mediums, communication, and even offline offices and other marketing materials. This consistent representation enables your user to recognize elements and anticipate the next action, speeding up the learning curve for new products and services a user has yet to explore. This predictability allows brands to engage and transact users faster.

5. Prioritization

As you deal with multiple platforms, you’ll have to plan and prioritize the content as well as the format it will be displayed in. Prioritization is one of the biggest challenges for brands. The next step is to take all this information and adapt it to a single template using the simplest code possible, ensuring it is displayable on devices having fewer capabilities. This will prove to be a hard task for huge brands with countless products and services.

6. Work concurrently but independently

When two designers work on the same feature, at the same time on their respective platforms, they’ll soon begin to step on each other’s toes and promptly reveal the flaws in this workflow. Consistency especially takes a beating here. Ensuring the colors, typography, and call to actions remain consistent among all the platforms is a challenge. Different platforms call for different conventions as they have different technical constraints. Both designers would stop their work, brainstorm, and usually reevaluate the design and ditch whatever wasn’t working. At the end of the constant brainstorming sessions and design reevaluations, it's understood that neither designer can move forward until the other moves forward as well. As you can imagine, not very agile. Instead, diverge and work on different features independently rather than working concurrently on the same feature on your respective platform. Finally, the designers can swap their features and translate the design to their platform. This allows each designer the freedom to creatively solve any technical constraints along the way. Frequent whiteboard sessions will help keep everyone on the same page during the process. Increased independence will lead to clear ownership, faster pace, and room for exploration. But this process doesn’t mean working in a vacuum, collaboration is still free-flowing. By assigning designers specific responsibilities, they feel creatively satisfied while also able to work fluidly.

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Amit Ashwini