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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.

"For me, the most important part of research is just hiring the right designers. Hiring people who have empathy, who can understand how people who are not like themselves might encounter our products and what problems they might have and what needs they have that maybe the designer doesn't have. It's that empathy that really allows us to design products that are more universal."

NB: Some users who are first starting using one of your phones will have used HTC devices before, some will have come from a different brand's Android phone and some from the iPhone. How do you design something with is flexible and easy for people from all those backgrounds that come to you?

DB: "That's certainly a challenge. We're somewhat helped by the fact that smart phones are a pretty mature product category at this point. When I started at HTC in 2006, it was like the Wild West. From a design standpoint it was a green field, which was exciting but also somewhat daunting because there are no standard patterns.

"But now we're at a state where the standard patterns for experience design on a smartphone are pretty clear: everything from pinch to zoom to pull to refresh. We pride ourselves at HTC on innovating even within the confines of those standard patterns, but fundamentally the user experience is pretty standard - especially within a particular ecosystem like Android, where we're trying to design the products in such as way that if you come from another Android phone you're not completely confused by our product.

"On the one hand we want to differentiate, we want to do new things, but we need to help people make that transition by putting some familiar landmarks in the UI."

NB: How do you decide when something you design is good enough to be worth doing differently from the stock Android UI?

DB: "That's just really a source of constant debate for us. The way we decide is it has to feel like you're getting enough benefit out of that change to make it worth the pain of learning something new.

"In some ways that's the most exciting part of designing [for] mobile right now: treading the line between familiarity, which helps people to start using your product and not having too many problems; innovation, which lets us do new exciting things; and a consistent brand image, which allows it to feel like an HTC product. Balancing those three forces is the design project.

"What we do [to find the line] is create a lot of variations and then we debate which ones are the best expression or maximise all three of those categories the best.


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