A Short Interview With Lars Knutsen, Director of UX and Design
We sat down for a bite to eat with Lars Knutsen, our Director of UX and Design here at Unwire. We wanted to know what the design team are fiddling with at the moment, and what’s on their minds.
Hello Lars. How are you this afternoon?
I’m very well. It’s summer in Denmark – you can’t complain!
Ah, wise words! So tell me – what’s going on over in the design corner right now?
A whole lot is going on. I think the most exciting things include a completely revamped validation method for mobile ticketing. We’ve always pushed ourselves in thinking how we can make visual validation easier, safer – just better in general. It’s a very delicate balance between making validation easily visible to the conductor and something that is aesthetically pleasing to the user. After a lot of work, we’ve come up with a fantastic new design that will meet the criteria for all our agencies in terms of maintaining the information level required as well as being expandable to contain barcodes, bundle tickets, IDs and so on. It’s running on our Android devices right now, and we’ll share more when the polishing and finish has been added! [note: it’s awesome].
We’re also developing the mobile payment app for 4-T, and that’s really starting to take shape. Well, it took basic shape a while ago, but these things take time to get right – you need to go through the motions, and see how it works. We’re getting really pleased with it now, how it looks and how it works. It’s an app with a few key features and that gives us a chance to really focus on look and feel. We can get all this ready and then expand on the features when the next stage begins.
We’ve got a few prototypes going in the office too. One is photo ID on mobile tickets which will mean that you can use user-generated photos for picture, e.g. for monthly passes and so on, or other passes where ID will be important. It’ll be a huge move forward in ticketing as currently all monthly passes etc. have to be done by mail – snail mail – or in transport agency shops and counters. Not only will it be great for passengers, but also for transport agencies and so on – no more photo booths!
Nice! Those are some pretty exciting developments. We can’t talk to our design director without mentioning the new iOS 7. Even though the announcement happened some weeks ago, people in the industry are still figuring out what this major design overhaul from Apple implies, and what the impacts will be for app owners, designers and developers. What are your views on it all?
Well, that could take a long time! I think that it’s a very interesting change and much needed design and feature update. It’s a huge departure from the previous design of rounded edges, shadows and skeuomorphism (trying to assimilate real objects digitally, e.g. stitched leather, etc.) to a kind of space odyssey kind of thing, with flat, clean minimal edges and so on. It’s such a change that if you don’t update your app to match the iOS7 design, it’s going to look very, very odd sandwiched between the others. For instance, you might have buttons with shadows and rounded edges whereas the standard components are flat, square and without edge effects. There are some things that must be done, like updating the launch icon and launch screen. But from my perspective it’s not just the launch icon that needs updating, it’s the whole app. Entire apps are designed around Apple’s design guides and now with such a big change, it’s not something you can just avoid. When design guides change, they impact the whole app construction, not just parts of it.
So the whole app, interface etc., has to be redesigned?
It doesn’t have to, but one should seriously consider it – especially if you have a very iOS 6 oriented design today. iOS 7 carries a blend of several worlds – Windows font inspiration, Android transparent tile concepts, even the icon inspiration and multi-task element seem to carry some inspiration from Nokia’s Symbian Belle. There’s no revolution in iOS 7 in terms of features, rather natural evolution as Apple had to do something to catch up – it was becoming very static. Windows and Android have shown how to bring content to the front for easy access and how multi-tasking should be simple and provide clean and fast overview of what you have running. iOS 7 has borrowed a lot, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be easier to create app designs that look better across the all OS interfaces. Google Maps is a good example of this.
What will be interesting is to see if the app community is ready with matching designs by the launch or if things will just look messy. From what we saw on the update from iOS 5 to iOS 6 we expect explosive update conversion from 6 to 7. If app owners want their app design overhaul to be ready at launch of iOS 7, they need to act now.
So are you looking forward to doing all the redesign?
Some of it’s fun – not rescaling an icon – but the really fun part is composing a whole new UI for iOS 7. You need to look at all the components, how is it going to look, how will it work, etc. Creating harmony is a very interesting part of the work, as is creating alignment to work across different OSs. It’s hard though as you can’t force something that is very iOS inspired into Android, and vice versa, without often making compromises. People are used to the design of what they use – some elements just won’t translate well into Android. You don’t want to confuse people. We’ve been trying to see how we can reuse things logically across every OS, and as said, we’re starting to see a blend of worlds, so it’s actually becoming easier to use the same elements in OS, as in Android.
What about the idea that you might have to pay again for the redesigned app? Do you think users would be willing to fork out again?
If I had a free app installed and was charged to update, I’d be pretty frustrated. I might not even do it unless it was among my ‘can’t live without’ apps. It’s too much of a risk to charge again just because of a design update. The chances of the user may be very slim. There’s no way we’d charge the user to update any of the apps we’ve done – after all they are daily used ticketing and payment apps. Apps should upgrade seamlessly and without additional cost, unless new features are included which might warrant a charge. Yes, this means more cost for app providers, but the changes in design direction could lead to Android and iOS designs being much more similar, thereby reducing the overhead in having two distinct design directions. My last words would be: start looking at the design sooner rather than later.
A great way to end. We’re well out of time, so it’s back to work! Thanks a lot, Lars, and we’re looking forward to hearing how those prototypes come along.
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