Ratings screens in children’s apps need to die — and they’re not the only thing

Mini-G has been faffing about with an iPod touch and — whenever possible — her parents’ iPhones for some months now. If ever you need a reminder about your generation’s looming obsolescence, stick a toddler in front of a high-tech device and see them master it before they’ve even figured out how to talk. Anyway, since we’re at the point where mini-G can use apps alone (albeit supervised), I’ve made some observations.

First, I’m broadly positive about the whole screens thing. I don’t believe a kid should be glued to any kind of screen for long periods of the day, but mini-G learned how to attempt to say ‘mouth’ from Metamorphabet, and has apps that have boosted aspects of empathy and dexterity. After a session has gone on for perhaps 20 minutes, an iPhone is — typically without prompting — turned to sleep mode and returned to the relevant parent. (Elsewhere, books are read, Lego is played with, puzzles are completed, telly is watched, and wheeled walkers are driven around the kitchen as if it’s the Indy 500. So: balance.)

Secondly, however, it’s clear some developers of apps for children either haven’t tested them all that much on actual children using them on their own, or fundamentally don’t care about the user experience as it relates to said children. Here are some things developers should avoid when making apps for kids:


Ratings screens.
These aren’t exactly loved in apps for adults, but it’s reasonable to include them — reviews and ratings can be important for an app’s success. But throwing up a screen along these lines on an app being used by a 20-month-old child? At best, a parent will be there and grumpily turn off the app. If not, the child will get frustrated and bounce out to the App Store. (And developers who reason very young kids do not remember their favourite apps — as in, apps that don’t annoy them — let me tell you: you are wrong.)


Long launch animations.
 Yes, we know you’re probably very proud of that lengthy animation you had commissioned, your company logo bouncing around like a cartoon character hopped up on sugar. But here’s the thing: no kid cares a jot. In fact, mini-G exits apps with remarkable speed if they don’t ‘do’ anything interactive. You’ve probably got two or three seconds. By all means include your intro, but make it immediately skippable with a single tap. Otherwise, you’re just this tech generation’s DVD producer.


Visible IAP.
 I’m not against IAP in general, not even in apps for children. Developers just need to ensure apps aren’t exploitative. However, in apps designed for children, the IAP needs to be hidden behind some kind of settings screen. I’ve seen too many apps now where you get the first bit for free, and then a kid taps on something that flings up an IAP window. Sure, they’re not going to purchase anything at that moment (well, unless they’re very tech savvy and you are asleep); but the child will get frustrated at not being able to easily exit that screen and get back to the fun parts, or when they inevitably end up back on that screen on a fairly regular basis.


Fiddly navigation.
 It takes time for the dexterity of young children to improve, and yet children’s apps are full of fiddly navigation elements. So make interfaces chunky. Ensure that if a kid accidentally exits to the main screen, they can continue by tapping a suitably massive button (it turns out a big Play symbol is a good one to use). If you don’t, you may find kids simply exit the app and don’t go back.

April 7, 2016. Read more in: Apps, Design, Opinions, Technology

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When Flipboard flipped its accessibility switch to none

Faruk Ateş was one of several designers to tear into the new Flipboard website, which throws accessibility under the bus, in order to offer a more fluid app-like experience online. On Daring Fireball, John Gruber essentially defended the move:

I’ve been a proponent of accessibility for as long as I can remember. It does not follow, however, that what Flipboard chose to do is wrong.

It is true that Flipboard’s engineering decisions prioritize animation and scrolling performance above accessibility. That’s no secret — the title of their how-we-build-this post was “60 FPS on the Mobile Web”. It does not mean they don’t care about accessibility. My understanding is that accessibility is coming — they’re working on it, but it isn’t ready yet.

John’s a smart guy, but I think he’s got this wrong. Accessibility shouldn’t be something a company ‘works on’, trying to figure out how to retro-fit it to a flashy new solution. It should just exist from day one. It’s absurd that Flipboard, a tool for reading, is now no more accessible to blind people than a Flash website would have once been. That’s not progress — that’s regression.

February 18, 2015. Read more in: Design, Opinions, Technology

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Apple, motion sickness triggers and OS X Yosemite — Why Apple should bring Reduce Motion ‘back to the Mac’

I’m not a developer, but I know enough about development to realise what a big deal WWDC 2014 was. Apple outlined the future of its two operating systems, with some major upgrades that will ensure iOS and OS X both mature and seamlessly integrate. There were also some ‘Back to the Mac’ moments, notably in terms of interface: although OS X isn’t yet as flat as iOS, Yosemite is simpler and cleaner than Mavericks.

Although all the new technology and interfaces are exciting, I’m hoping that it will be fourth time lucky regarding motion sickness and balance accessibility. I’ve been writing for over two years now about such issues as relating to Apple’s operating systems, including an open letter to Apple on this site, and then articles for Stuff magazine and The Guardian, specifically about iOS 7, which had become unusable to me and many others.

Apple listened. Within a month, major animations could be switched for a subtle cross-fade; as of iOS 7.1, the vast majority of other issues were dealt with too, as I reported on in a follow-up piece for The Guardian. Individual third-party apps are now the most common triggers (through developers getting a bit animation-happy), and those can be avoided.

I was truly thrilled at Apple’s response to the iOS 7 problems, and it meant I could use my iPad again, without fear of accidentally triggering the app-switcher and having to take a 15-minute break while trying not to throw up. (And I’m fortunate: many people with similar issues can be knocked out for days after being triggered.) But I’m also disappointed that Apple has fundamentally ignored this issue in three major versions of its desktop-based operating system.

With OS X Lion, perhaps, this is forgivable. Motion/balance accessibility is not well known, and Apple to its credit offers a huge range of accessibility controls and add-ons for people that require assistance for vision, hearing or motor. But then Mountain Lion arrived, followed a year later by Mavericks. Still the full-screen animation remained; still you transitioned between apps with a full-screen slide; still certain apps persisted in utilising similar animations.

As per iOS 7, I’m not hoping for any change in default behaviour. Apple’s existing animations provide a sense of space and location for people using them, and that’s great. What I am hoping for is that Apple brings one more thing ‘Back to the Mac’ for OS X Yosemite: Reduce Motion. Put a checkbox in accessibility that switches out these animations for something less jarring. Better: add more granular controls, and place them in context, rather than hiding them away. Given that TotalSpaces2 can override the app transition animation in full screen, offering six alternatives and an off switch, there’s no reason Apple can’t do the same. More to the point, Apple should do the same, unless it’s a company that believes, for some reason, there’s a cut-off point when it comes to accessibility and user inclusivity on the desktop.

June 9, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Design

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Thoughts on iOS 7 buttons and UX

Steven Aquino writes about iOS 7.1 beta 2’s new accessibility option:

The biggest addition, feature-wise, is the inclusion of a “Button Shapes” option under Accessibility. If enabled, what this toggle does is puts borders around the heretofore plain text, non-bordered UI buttons.

Most of the commentary I’ve read on this change has been from designers who are upset that the borders are ugly, and they question why Apple chose to add them.

That’s not what I’m questioning. My concern is more that Apple has created an operating system that clearly has a ton of UX and UI issues, and yet is now burying ‘fixes’ within accessibility, away from where the typical user will see it. To my mind, the defaults of any design should be the most usable, even if that means some kind of compromise on whatever artistic and aesthetic vision you have. With iOS 7, Apple’s strayed some way from that goal; I hope as its mobile OS continues to evolve it will trend back towards being more usable, rather than being a showcase for Jony Ive’s infatuation with a certain kind of minimalism.


Further reading: Visual Preferences by Lukas Mathis • Shaping Buttons by Eric Schwarz.

December 16, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Design

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‘Hot’ women versus ‘influential’ men in web design

What the fuck? That was my initial reaction on being told earlier today about an article featuring ‘hot female web designers’. Amazingly, it gets worse. The full article title (no link, because) is “20 Hot Female Web Designers That Will Take Your Breath Away” and is either knowingly trawling the web as link bait or has a disconnect the size of the moon.

It begins:

Sizzling hot designs from hot female web designers will prove that, though web design industry has always been viewed as a world fully packed with men, the best stuff doesn’t always come from them!

Or how about: “Great work from women in the web industry proves that although the industry has long been seen as male-dominated, men definitely don’t create all the best work”?

Female web designers constantly battle to acquire the top spot in web design industry.

And then stupid blog posts screw them over by mentioning them for their physical characteristics rather than their work. Great!

though females are considered extinct in web designing

Extinct? Certainly not. But if they were, it would probably be through being killed off my an avalanche of stupid set off by a volcano of idiocy.

But first let me ask you to hold your breath.

OK. Holding.

To escape from the wrath of the male hot web designers and being accused of being a sexist,

No longer holding. Instead thinking of just how many things can be so wrong in so few words.

let me remind you that this article is made to uplift the spirits of young female web designers.

Nothing is more uplifting than being told you’re hot rather than, say, a great designer!

This is to show the little girls out there that web designing is not just a man’s world. To prove that [site name redacted] is equal in promoting both sexes in web design, feel free to read this post: 15 Most Influential People in Web Design.

Because men are influential but women are merely hot. Got it. (And, no, before you ask, not a single woman is on the influential list—after all, they’re just too hot and, apparently, not influential enough.)

Again: what the fuck?

 

September 5, 2013. Read more in: Design, Opinions

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