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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.

"The one criticism I have of our current implementation is I think we can do a better job [of] helping to set up people's expectations for how it works. Right now it's not totally clear what it's going to do at the outset - and so people don't know what to expect."

NB: In the past, UI and app design followed product design. The hardware was created first and the software came last. How do you work now?

DB: "We try to start every project with both disciplines interacting and collaborating. It's helped by the fact that we co-locate both industrial designers and user experience designers in our studios. When we kick off a project the first thing [we ask] is what's the goal of this project? Who is this project for? What's it trying to do? Then they'll split apart and go into their detailed work at times but they always come back together to make sure everything's in sync. Because it's that hardware/software interaction that gives us the great advantage over just a third party software developer. [This lets us] do things that can't be done just in software."

NB: Some of the features in Google's forthcoming Android M OS have been co-opted from HTC Sense - such as the vertically scrolling app menu.

DB: "This is not a new trend unfortunately. We consider it quite flattering that Google likes to adopt our design work.

NB: How do you then decide to not carry on with your own version and use Google's own?

DB: "We have occasionally stopped or slowed down on our custom version as Google's have gotten better. It's my observation that Google's first version of something like that is usually not their best. It's a version 1.0.

"Google does have a good track record for steadily improving things. So after two or three releases it can be pretty good. Then we often move on because we need to focus our efforts where we can create the most value. If Google's offering something that's every bit as good as something that we did, there's no point in us spending time on it.

"There are still areas where we think the custom HTC version of something is actually better than the Google one, even though Google's been steadily improving theirs for generation. A good example for me is the recent apps screen on our phone. It's quite different from the Google one. It's because fundamentally we just have a different point of view about what's important on that screen.

From HTC's point of view, it needs to be really easy and quick to access just the absolutely most recent apps. We show nine apps at the same time. Google seems to be more focused on enabling a very large number of recent apps, so you can scroll through this big list. We just don't think that's an important use case.


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