TikTok breaks all the rules of app design – but somehow it still works

Icons and text aside, the main difference with this new rule-breaking design is what Bowles calls the app’s spatial metaphor – essentially its structure and patterns. “IOS in particular has a pretty rigid spatial metaphor. It’s kind of a hierarchy, ”he says. Open a standard iOS app and you already know how to navigate it without any thought, which makes the apps easier to use. This is not the case in this new class of applications, like TikTok, Snapchat or Bigo. “They basically throw it all away,” he says.

Open TikTok and the random user videos immediately start playing, with more clips discovered via endless scrolling. Snapchat has left and right tab icons, but it also uses swiping. “These apps use a lot of screen swipes to navigate between screens in a way that people would say classic usability is totally nowhere to be found,” he says. “You would always want to have an icon or establish a hierarchy or a special layout. They’ve removed all of that and it’s basically you playing, swiping around to find things, but we’re not going to give you a clue what they are and where they are, leaving the user to take care of it. discover them by accident.

None of this is apparently a problem for the millions of people who use these apps every day, and Bowles himself stresses that he is not criticizing, simply noting a change in design standards – although it does raise questions. accessibility issues. “Users with cognitive impairments often struggle with unfamiliar icons or models,” he says, adding that smaller icons will naturally also pose accessibility issues. Different design patterns can also pose challenges for assistive technologies; this is one of the reasons why Apple and Google advise developers to keep defining models.

The designers behind Snapchat know they’re breaking with convention, says Jack Brody, chief product officer at Snap. “But the design choices weren’t made in order to break those old rules,” he says. “We made our design choices because we felt they were the best for our application. The app opens on the camera to make it easy to take a photo or video immediately, he says. “Snapchat is first of all creation, consumption comes after,” he adds.

“Our app is designed to present functions in the most engaging and welcoming way to encourage interaction and creation,” explained China-based TikTok’s user interface design team in a commentary. written statement. “As a platform that encourages everyone to be a creator, our main goal is to reduce the barriers to creating content, from app design to the editing tools and filters that we have introduced. “

Bowles suggests that design decisions can also help encourage “play and serendipity” in apps used for fun rather than useful tools, but there is also a theory that these apps are designed to keep users from over aged to enter. “The theory, which I think is somewhat credible, was that by creating this design pattern that was intentionally slightly difficult to use and slightly obscure, young users were not going to be bothered by parents joining the service,” he says. “Because the parents open it up and say ‘I have no idea what’s going on here’ and quickly give up. “

While it may sound familiar, Brody disagrees, saying his design team aims to make an app for everyone, and the numbers suggest 60% of its users are under 25, which means there are a lot of adults with the app on their phones. “That being said, I think in order for our product to do this effectively, there are certain UI and UX paradigms that could be more easily picked up by younger generations who grew up with a device in their pocket,” he admits. Because Snapchat was first mobile, he explains, it was never meant to be used on a desktop computer. This led to specific design choices, such as using swipes and gestures, rather than inheriting buttons and menus found on desktop software. previous companies ended up focusing on desktop designs, and people got used to it, ”he says, adding that TikTok was also clearly designed for mobile first.

And then there is the globalization of applications; our own western design assumptions are not necessarily held elsewhere. TikTok is a Chinese company and Asian markets have different expectations when it comes to interfaces. “They look at some western interfaces and think it’s empty and too obvious,” Bowles says. “They prefer a little more density and dynamism. So it could be that we are witnessing the collision of the western minimalist design aesthetic with a more vibrant and bustling eastern aesthetic.

A designer with years of training in best practices, accessibility, and iOS guidelines may notice the differences, but Snapchat and TikTok clearly work well enough for their users. “If you offer enough, enough perks, enough value and enough excitement, people will fight all the design mistakes you’ve made and find a way to learn. [an app]Says Bowles.


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