Mobile Design & the Legacy of the Desktop GUI

This is a guest article written by Hyper Island Mobile Application Program alumnus Mikael Keussen, Product Designer at Prismatic, and Bradford Cross CEO of Prismatic.

What is Prismatic

Prismatic is a new way to discover relevant content. It’s a newspaper for the modern world. You connect it to your social accounts, and we suggest interesting stuff that gets you into a great home feed as soon as possible.
Once we get you connected, you’re off to explore around to new topics, people, and publishers - adding more interests to your collection as you go. It creates a fun self-reinforcing cycle that gets you out into new stuff instead of staying stuck seeing more of what you already see.

Mobile touch experiences haven’t exactly ushered in a new wave of design thinking. Mobile design standards are mostly legacy desktop design with click events replaced by touch events.

Not much has changed since the GUI windowing systems of the early 1970’s. A couple of early examples are the Xerox Star and the Xerox Alto.

We’ve found the navigation bar to be problematic because smartphones have small screens, and navbars hog precious pixels that could be used for content.

Reimagining interaction with domain-specific navigation metaphors

Why do we still have navbars everywhere? We got our answer as soon as we got rid of them. The navbar is a standard one-size-fits-all navigation metaphor. Eliminating the navbar means reimagining your product’s navigation interactions, because they all tend to live on the navbar.

Prismatic is a news discovery product that focuses on finding new stuff. The more cool new stuff you find, the more you want to keep it organized, favorite it, share it, group it, etc. So you end up with these two modes of your stuff and finding new stuff. We decided to design around this core home-explore duality. Your home feed, your activity (read, shared, favorited), and your interests are all your stuff. The global feed, search, and suggested interests are all about finding new stuff.

Thoughtful domain-specific structure and navigation will be characteristic of the most successful mobile products of years to come. The new iPhone app, Clear, is one recent example of embracing full-screen content and experimenting with new interactions for a domains-specific problem.

Scifi is only fiction temporarily

When we decided to reinvent our navigation interactions. Our core idea was to create a touch interface that feels anatomical. We wanted something natural, that reacted like an extension of your fingers. When doing research on gestural interfaces with these properties, we were lead to scifi. For example, we found a bit of inspiration in some of the touch interactions found in the recent Iron Man films.

At first, we were worried that our ideas might be too crazy. As we continued our research, we learned that scifi and interface design have always influenced each other. Chris Noessel from Cooper has a great talk on the co-influence of Scifi and interface design. Chris has an entire book coming out on the subject in the summer of 2012.

We’d love to share all the details of our gesture navigation system, but you’ll have to wait for the iPhone launch and see it for yourself. It’s a whole new universe.