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Inside Mobile Design and User Experience

Thoughts on mobile and social business applications, design, and user experience, by Chris Reckling.

Updates to the IBM Connections mobile apps became available in the 'app stores' for Android and iOS. If you have the current apps, then these will replace them. Believe me, it's worth it! You can tell that we are slowly but surely re-doing the entire web app with a newly focused user experience, optimized for the device. This release is the latest in our journey that began last July with the first Connections apps delivered to the app stores. Congratulations to the development team and designers Jessica Ramirez, Carrie Tracy, and user researcher, Michelle Cooper.

First, here is some basic info for the record. Get the apps by scanning this code on your phone.
Google Play store
Google Play store  

Apple App Store
Apple App Store
You can easily start using them right away against the Greenhouse, if you have an account there. Your company will need to have Connections 3.0.1 and the mobile piece of that installed and running. I'm sure if you ask nicely, your friendly admin will help you.

Here are some great demos that Luis Benitez did, if you just want to check them out.
And partner, Belsoft AG, created an iPhone demo movie:

In later posts, I'll discuss some specific features, but for now, let me outline the design strategy behind the mobile apps and how it applies to Connections.
1. Follow the essential mobile design principles, especially:

  •  Facilitate quick attention and brief interaction.
  •  Emphasize primary tasks and reduce user interface. See #2 below.
  •  Follow platform and device guidelines appropriately. See #3 below.

2. Focus on core use cases, driven by user research on 'top tasks'. This is an important tenet no matter what you are building, but is especially true for mobile where solving the wrong problem can cause your app to be unusable for the things people really want to do. To use a sports analogy, a tennis racket is very useful for playing tennis, but unusable for golf. I am not talking about the 50 things you might want to do with the app, but the top ten or so tasks. (This is why we're always asking you for help in defining the top tasks.)
For Connections, we really had to think of each of the 'services' or 'apps' within Connections as separate functions, with their own set of core use cases. Generally, you want to be able to find people and content, comment, and view/update content. For example, in Profiles, core use cases would be things like:
  • Find a person in your network.
  • Contact them via email, SMS, phone.
  • Accept an invitation to network.
  • Follow or send network invitation to someone.

3. Looks and behaves like a well-formed mobile application that takes full advantage of the device form factor and on-board capabilities.
  • Meets user expectations by following device platform style guidelines. While there is a certain amount of commonality between Android and iOS, you want to make sure that you stay true to the platform where it matters. A simple example might be to support Android long press for context menus or the use of a Back button in the upper left corner for navigation on iOS. You'll also notice that there is a significant performance improvement because data is stored locally (encrypted, of course) and the app only goes to the server when it needs to.
  • Integration with on-device capabilities and supporting software i.e. camera, location, contacts, phone, etc. For example, being able to upload a picture, save a contact to local address book, use the phone.
  • Tablets vs. smartphones - don't treat these different form factors the same. The iPad app takes advantage of the bigger screen, for example, to show more information.

4. Common look and feel across IBM apps. We've been working diligently to create a common One UI standard for our mobile apps. It first started showing up in the Sametime meetings app and now Connections has it. This is happening fast and furiously, as we continue to define and refine our mobile patterns.

Hope that provides some insight behind the designs of these apps. More on specific features next week!


Chris Reckling | 8 June 2012 04:00:00 PM ET |

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