Reviewing Android Apps to Adhere to the Guidelines of Material Design

In 2014, I began to explore my passion with Design and Android Development, right after the announcement of Material Design blew my socks away. The best way to get acquainted with the latest technologies was to join a community and meet people who had similar interests. So, I decided to participate in a community alongside college and a part time at Haptik to accelerate my knowledge and #GiveBackTotheCommunity

I began attending various events organised by Google Developer Groups, Mumbai to learn, attend various sessions by professionals on Android, Design and other streams. This is also how I met Faiz Malkani. In 4 months, I decided I wanted to learn and speak at GDG Mumbai and delivered my first talk on Navigation Anti-Patterns in Android.

The Program

A short while later, in 2015, GDG came up with a program called UX Labs. I was already spending my free time on StackExchange User Experience, so I decided to give it a shot with Faiz to help startups improve the UX in their app and transition to Material Design to help make apps in Google Play Store consistent, while transitioning from Halo to Material Design.

We helped around 22 startups together, as a team of two in Mumbai and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Apps that were reviewed by UX Labs are confidential, so I’ll be unable to share the actual reviews done for the startups. Instead, I’ll share the parameters considered for the reviews.

Parameters for the Review

General and Miscellaneous Feedback

This contributed to the overall feedback of what the reviewer thinks of the app. It focused on growth, scale and lot of other factors which the parameters below didn’t cover.

Onboarding Flow and Edge Cases

Onboarding users to your app is extremely important to the business since it lets the user know how to use the app. If a user is overwhelmed by the amount of features in the app, they’ll scoot.

There needs to be a proper flow of tutorials and showcases of the major features an app contains so that users understand and know how to proceed.

Majority of the apps lacked this, so we had to give examples and links to libraries from Android Arsenal devs could use to get started with the process of implementing onboarding to their apps.

General Visual Design

Visual Design focused on the UI of the app than the UX. It concentrated on the colors that are used in the app, the way the app looks and feels on it’s MainActivity and other activities and how can the visual design be improved using Color Psychology. Also, focused on Material Design’s Primary, Secondary and Accent colors to convey on how they’ll make the product visually more appealing.

Assets and Theming

Assets and Symbols are an important way of how Material Design presents itself. This section concentrated on providing the appropriate icons and if they all were appropriately used as Flat, Filled icons without perspective.

Interaction Design

Interaction Design concentrated more on principles of Human Computer Interaction and other essentials such as Glance, Time and Change, which I had learnt from an online course from Coursera by UC San Diego on Human Computer Interaction. Just recently, I’m also learning more about Gesault’s principles and principles of animation in design.

While this wasn’t my strength in UX Reviews, it is definitely something I see myself going towards as I read and learn more.

Action Bar and Tabs

Many apps still used Halo’s action bar which was ugly and had a weird gradient to it. Material’s action bar was colorful and casted a shadow of y=2.

Navigation Drawer

Around this time, there was a popular debate on how the Navigation Drawer should be the topmost layer, above the toolbar as opposed to Holo Design’s under the Toolbar ways.
Many developers were still unaware of that practice and it was essential to make them understand on how the Toolbar deviates the attention of the user from the activity they’re willing to perform (i.e. navigate).

Surprisingly a lot of app developers used the Navigation Drawer for actions which weren’t even related to navigation. Also, by inserting negative actions into the drawer such as Clear chats, both in the drawer and the FAB.

Feature Suggestions

Basic feature suggestions like, including a FAB for primary actions or related to the product what reviewers felt was missing or what could be added as an addition to the value the product already offers.

Play Store Listing

Users first see your app on the Play Store. This enables them to understand if they want to use your app or not. A Play Store listing has all the details of what should a user expect your app to do along with additional features. This makes the Play Store an extremely important point to list your app correctly.

More

This section essentially covered everything else which wasn’t a parameter.

Reviewer comments

As I mentioned earlier, the reviews were confidential, so I cannot share the same. However, I began to do my own version of UX Labs when I started pitching for an internship. Although it doesn’t have all the parameters mentioned above, I based it upon how a user will search for the product on the Play Store and concentrated more on how Mobcast should rebrand itself — https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FfZNIdKoXFhpk181UtXuDpuZdpPpjZvj2u36CrDadOc/edit?usp=sharing

Learnings

A popular comment we got while a few people rejected to move to Material Design was — Material Design will make our app look too mainstream or users won’t be able to differentiate from our app. While we weren’t advocating Google’s design language, it was disappointing to be unable to convince developers to move to the fizzy and bubbly new world of Material just because they weren’t convinced about the effort it took to make the move and that they’ll have to change the design again later at some point.

A few things I learnt the hard way is that Design is far beyond just sticking to principles or guidelines of a particular platform. It’s about taking the existing style and trying to portray the product/brand best for the platform and your users. A few examples might be Dropbox, AirbnbEng, Apple Music and Spotify. Also that these learnings, came in 2017, 2 years after the program. This was also recently covered by uxdesign.cc by Nikhil Vootkur in his article “Overcoming Material Design”

I also learnt that Business is also an important aspect on how a product’s design evolves from time to time. While it can be extremely satisfying to adhere to the principles and do the right thing, it means jack-shit if your business doesn’t make the $. Same reason why some apps have ads/commercials, even when developers & designers know it compromises the overall experience.

I’d love to see UX Labs make a comeback in some form or other, where Designers & Developers could share their reviews on the community’s apps. This time however, I’d like to make it open source and keep it open-ended to the brand’s styling while following basic principles of good design and empower developers to make their apps better while keeping in mind that, design evolves and doesn’t restrict itself to guidelines/principles.

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