Nov - 2011
Written by Bert Timmermans
Here at Digiti we like to use and create things that not only work perfectly, but are pleasing to the eye as well. A few weeks ago I noticed that De Lijn ( the Belgian bus and tram company ) launched their mobile iPhone app. With this app you can look up the possible routes to and from your destination, save your preferred travel routes, and look up bus schedules. But when using the app I discovered a couple of issues and inconsistencies.
As an application designer at Digiti, I took the liberty of redesigning it and suggesting my alternative. With this redesign I wanted to point out the app’s true potential and show it at its finest; in other words, what would it look and “feel” like if Digiti had designed it? (If you’d like to test their app yourself, you can download it from the App Store.)
For this blog post, I focused on the route planner of the app because it is the most important feature. Here are some issues I found with it while putting it to the test:
General look and feel
The De Lijn app is a “branded” app, which means it was styled to fit the brand guidelines of the company. But mixing the corporate visual identity with the default iOS elements without adapting them to each other makes the interface look cluttered. It’s as if one style has been forced into another. The right approach is to create a unique style based on the brand guidelines but one that is designed to fit with the iOS style. Also, try to reuse elements of other apps that people are familiar with (for example, the button to switch “from” and “to”).
Problems using the app outdoors
Mobile is all about location, so you must keep in mind the environment in which the app will be used. In this case, the app will be predominantly used outdoors, at all times of the day, and in unpredictable lighting. So, good contrast between the text and background is essential. The best approach for outside apps is black text on a white background. That’s why I changed the default navigation bar to a lighter custom one with more contrast. I also noticed that the original app had a lot of text with a low contrast, which would make it quite difficult to read if the sun shines on the screen.
Features versus simplicity
When building/designing an iPhone app you must give the highest priority to the user’s most frequently used and most important interactions and focus your efforts there. It is clearly the route planner: the user wants to simply and swiftly find a route. Putting in the “from” and “to” can be done a lot faster if you use a general search instead of navigating between several views. The best way to understand what I mean is downloading the NMBS iPhone app ( the Belgian train iPhone app ). The general idea is that they combine all possible location information into one database that you can search through.
Illogical behaviors and incorrect use of default interface elements
Designing for a platform means that you have to learn how the default behaviors of the interface work. A good start is using platform-specific user interface elements that the user recognizes and already knows how to use. The problem with the original De Lijn app is that it appears to use some of those elements, yet they respond in ways that would be unexpected for the user instead. This creates confusion (and can be frustrating to the user) and is exactly the scenario you want to avoid.
To be clear, we like the effort De Lijn put into publishing a mobile app and the fact that it offers added value. The goal of the Digiti redesign is to encourage companies like De Lijn to rethink in terms of the mobile user experience and what a difference each detail makes in the day-to-day life of the person using the app. This includes looking at how steep the learning curve is for new users. People love apps that are clear and almost immediately usable. We also believe our redesign gives a good inside view of how seriously we take our work. We like to have apps and our other tools to be “just right,” from the start—in both function and appearance.
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