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HTC's head designer on what's exciting in designing for mobile right now

Neil Bennett | July 1, 2015
HTC's head designer Drew Bamford tells us how you create interfaces and experiences for increasingly large phones and VR headsets – and how you design differently for Asia.

Drew Bamford isn't quite HTC's answer to Apple's Jonny Ive, but he's the person responsible for making the manufacturer's experience design - how the company's devices feel and work like 'HTC phones' rather than just another Android handset.

Unlike Jonny, HTC's head designer's purvue is focused on the digital part of the phone - the experience design of which the company calls HTC Sense. This incorporates HTC's custom version of Android - which features an innovative apps module on the home screen that changes what shortcuts it displays based on where you are and a Highlights feed that brings together prominent information from your social networks.

The phones - which include the HTC One M9 (below) that I've been using in advance of interviewing Drew (courtesy of my colleagues at TechAdvisor), as I'm a day-to-day iPhone user - also include HTC's own apps that offer features that Google's core apps don't, or are designed to do it better. These include a Kids Mode for parents like me whose children are regularly asking to play on their phones, and the Zoe social-media-focussed video editing app.

htc

I saw down with Drew on his recent visit to London to discuss his approach to phone interface and experience design, how you design something that's better than Google's, and how you design interfaces for those used to similar-but-distinctly-different ones (like other Android variants and Apple's iOS). We also talked about HTC's recent moves into VR with its Vive headset and controllers, and how to design phones for the very different expectations of users in Asia.

Neil Bennett: The terms 'experience design' and 'user experience' are bandied around a lot, sometimes without a clear definition of what they are beyond a focus on the user rather than the process. What do they mean to you?

Drew Bamford: "There are a lot of definitions of user experience. We think of it in quite a broad sense: everything from the out-of-box experience when you're unpacking the new product to the first five minutes of setting it up - to the first five days in which you move in to the experience and you're making it yours. Then the end of life experience. How do you transition to the next HTC product? We're really trying to think about that whole lifecycle.

"The way that we approach it is fundamentally focused on the people who are using our products. This is pretty standard now. User-centred design has become an industry norm - or at least people talk about it. But we really practice what we preach. We really do spend a lot of time to understand who our users are and then use lots of different mechanisms for finding out what they need, what they want - everything from the classic contextual inquiry ethnographic project where we go observe people in their homes using products to much more casual things. I think actually the most powerful insights we get are often just the designers observing trends and observing people in their natural environment doing stuff with their phones.

 

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