October 10, 2017

A Focus on Responsible Design

Web content accessibility (provisions for equal access and opportunity to people with disabilities) has been standardized for several years. But since 2014, users prefer to access the web via mobile rather than desktop computers. Yet accessibility standards for mobile are not as clearly defined as they are for web. You can guess where we’re going with this—mobile developers must work toward standards in mobile accessibility by designing mobile experiences, as well as mobile web, with everyone in mind.

We call this responsible design, which includes considerations for motor functions (addressing tap/touch features), vision (accounting for low or complete lack of vision), hearing (accommodating varying levels of hearing loss), and learning (addressing dyslexia and autism, among other concerns). Because Bottle Rocket mobile and connected device experiences reach millions of users, we’ve put a lot of thought into responsible design.

Bottle Rocket’s VP of Experience Design, Michael Griffith, outlines what we bring to our clients’ projects: “Here at Bottle Rocket, we often talk about responsible design. That means we go the extra mile to ensure the things we are building are on brand, scalable, responsive, usable, and accessible. As responsible designers, it’s our duty to deeply understand accessibility and be empathic to all users.”

Google said it best in their Android accessibility panel at this year’s I/O—accessibility features benefit all users, not just those with a disability or accessibility need. Yes, these features are designed to be a life-changing benefit, allowing the disabled to easily connect to friends and family with their mobile device. But accessibility features can also help able-bodied users use their touchscreen effectively while they are occupied with other tasks. And now that toolkits for engineers have even more accessibility options built in (as we learned yet again from this year’s WWDC and Google I/O event), responsible design is easier than ever.

Google announced new features and APIs focused on accessibility, including fingerprint sensor gestures, an accessibility shortcut, a continuous gesture API, and new ways to test accessibility, among many other updates.

This year’s WWDC included a call to all app developers to provide more accessibility in their experiences. Apple’s mobile operating systems can do a lot to accommodate in these areas, but apps are core to their platform experiences and must be accessible. Now iOS features new assistive functions and APIs to help developers create accessible apps more simply.

Accessibility is so important at Bottle Rocket that we’ve built accessibility standards into the whole of our business operations, from development to QA.

Michael Hubbard, Bottle Rocket’s Director of iOS Engineering, explains our approach on the development side: “Our standard development process includes designing and coding to Apple and Google’s accessibility programming guides. This means leveraging the accessibility APIs and tools provided by Apple and Google, which provides for a certain level of accessibility support with minimal development overhead.”

XD designers who work with clients should be utilizing accessibility APIs for responsible design that ensures no user is marginalized. With the latest Android and iOS updates, there are fewer excuses for a lack of responsible design. At Bottle Rocket, accessibility is our default, and we think it should be that way for every developer. The more connections we can create for every person, the better.

As responsible design becomes more important to our business, we’re taking extra steps to stay ahead of the game and augment our processes to make our experiences more accessible. Expect more from Bottle Rocket on accessibility in the future.

Want to learn more about accessibility? Start the conversation at [email protected].

September 25, 2017

Big Design in Our Backyard

This year’s Big Design Conference, celebrating its 10th anniversary, was held near our headquarters in Addison, Texas, so you can bet Bottle Rocket was there.

In fact, one of our XD Strategists, Adam Polansky not only spoke at this year’s Big Design, but he’s also a co-founder of the event! The Big Design Conference hosts more than 1,000 of the brightest minds in every arena of design, from user experience and usability professionals to digital marketers, designers, content strategists, and developers.

Each year, the speakers are a combination of local and international presenters, many of them published authors, who share their experiences and knowledge. Keynote speakers Pamela Pavliscak and Amy Cueva gave us new perspectives on how we view familiar environments and how they view us. Other presenters included Margot Danial of ADT, Paul Sherman from Kent State University, Emily Tate, Steve Portigal, Elisa K. Miller, Christian Crumlish, and Kyle Soucey who shared topics that covered career advice, the most tactical approaches to problems, and stories about successes and failures for design in large and small companies.

This year, there was a particular focus on what we’d call Advanced Design Citizenship, punctuated eloquently by closing keynote speaker Alan Cooper. This concept challenged attendees to think and act beyond solving immediate design problems associated with building products. He showed us how the current trajectory of life on this planet is jeopardized when designers divorce themselves from accountability and rationalize their participation in the name of profits, blindly building experiences that have harmful effects. He believes that designers have more power than they realize, and that we have the chance to do more than promote our abilities. If that’s true, and, as Jared Spool said, we really are all designers, we can truly save the world.

The whole event began with workshops on developing ideas creatively, Acroyoga as a tool for learning to work collaboratively, and virtual/augmented reality. The main program kicked off with usability and UX design leader Jared Spool talking about the importance of cross-collaboration in the design process, and then the mayhem started. Day one gave attendees 10 tracks to choose from on topics addressing all facets of design. Whether an attendee was a product manager or stakeholder, information architect, strategist, visual designer, animator, content developer, or engineer, there was something for everyone across nearly 90 sessions!

On Friday evening, attendees were invited to attend the filming of the latest episode of Project UX, a web TV show that pairs startups with a panel of UX pros ready to help them improve their products by looking through the lens of UX. The panel reviewed Noiseaware, an IoT app that pairs with sensors to alert homeowners of the noise levels in their AirBnB or HomeAway rental properties. The panel, which included Debra Gelman, Alan Cooper, Bibiana Nunes, and Jared Spool had some frank and challenging advice to offer the startup, tackling topics such as the importance of direct communication with users and the ethics of their product when in use.

We had a great time learning from and meeting other passionate designers. As innovators, we never rest on our design practices that won us awards in the past. We’re always eager to learn the latest on our craft and put it to work for our clients to design the best experiences with the latest tech.

Want to see what our designers can do for your brand? Let us know at [email protected]

May 30, 2017

Engineering Jedi: iOS10 – The 4s Awakens

With the introduction of iOS 10 in September 2016, Apple officially dropped support for the iPhone 4s, a device introduced nearly 5 years prior in October 2011. Following this news, iOS devs rejoiced! No longer would they need to continue supporting a device that was more than 5 years old and starting to show its age in terms of processing power, features, and available hardware sensors. Most importantly, no longer would they need to continue developing UI components and layouts that needed to gracefully adapt across four different screen sizes – 3.5”, 4”, 4.7”, and 5.5” – or so they thought….

Since the iPhone 4s couldn’t run iOS 10, it was easy to view that restriction as a blessing if you were creating a new app with a deployment target of iOS 10+. The UI could now be built to take advantage of the fact that your app would only be run using the 16:9 aspect ratios of the newer devices. Previously, it had often been very challenging to keep things simple when creating UI that looked good on both the smallest 480x320 resolution of the iPhone 4s and the largest 736x414 resolution of the iPhone 7+.

As you can imagine, this was our manner of thinking until just a few weeks ago when one of our client’s iPhone-only apps got rejected by Apple. The official rejection reason was that the app didn’t run at “iPhone resolution” when reviewed on an iPad. Specifically, Apple stated that the “app didn’t display properly” and referenced some screenshots attached to the ticket showing UI elements overlapping and running into each other. They also cited section 2.4.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which states that “iPhone apps should run on iPad whenever possible”.

It’s easy to forget that all iPhone apps can be downloaded, installed, and run on an iPad via the iPad’s “Compatibility Mode” feature. This was something that we did test before release, but only on the large 12.9” iPad Pro. The kicker here is that for all other iPad models, the iPhone app is run in its 3:2 aspect ratio. For the 12.9” iPad Pro, the app is run at the 16:9 aspect ratio that you get when you run the app on a 4”, 4.7”, or 5.5” device.

To correct the issue, we had to pivot quickly to adapt the designs and UI layouts to function properly on the 3:2 aspect ratio device. After again testing our iPhone-only app on three different screen-sized iPhones as well as the two models of iPads, we resubmitted the build to Apple and were quickly approved.

The unfortunate lesson here is that the 3:2 aspect ratio of the ancient 3.5” iPhones will continue to be a thorn in iOS developers’ sides for years to come. Our hope is that Apple eventually allows iPhone-only apps to run at the much more developer and user-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio by default on all iPads, not just the larger 12.9” iPad Pro. If Apple ever makes this change, then we can truly stop worrying about designing for the 3:2 aspect ratio devices when supporting the latest version of iOS. Until then, continue to develop your UI for iPhone-only apps such that it runs properly on all four iPhone screen sizes.

September 21, 2016

Beyond Music, AirPods, and UX

We’ve had some time to think about the event, and we’ve noticed something interesting about Apple’s new focus. We already know they’re working to create a seamless user experience across their suite of products, but now there are new opportunities to engage with users when they are not actively interacting with a device.

 

A Strategist’s Perspective on Apple’s September Event

Although there were few surprises at the Annual, hardware-focused Apple September event, the announcement of AirPods might be signaling a new form of UX. The AirPods have a brain (W1 chip) and sensors (infrared and an accelerometer) independent of the phone. Currently, the sensors are only used to detect when they are being worn or to detect a tap, but the future potential is undeniable. The AirPods will one day be much more than earbuds that simply deliver audio.

Imagine the maps app whispering in your ear to turn left, or your calendar app reminding you of your next meeting and who is in it. Push notification could be read to you. We often assume augmented reality involves visuals, what would an audio augmented reality experience be? As we move to more screens interactions, what other interactions might move to earbuds?

Most interesting is what this means to the user. There will not be a single killer wearable; users will have a choice of the wearable to fit situations and environment. As a developer (or brand) we must support the devices that the user chooses. As we expand delivery to new devices and platforms, will the functionality and content you are currently providing your users (APIs) be flexible and able to support AirPods, smart watches, bracelets, glasses, etc.?

Contact us to find out more about these new points of interaction and how to leverage them to provide a better user experience.

August 25, 2016

Uday Gajendar Speaks About Enterprise UX at UX Meet-Up

The User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) has many chapters all across the world that hold weekly and monthly events. Recently, the local Dallas chapter had a UX Meet-Up hosted here at Bottle Rocket.

The featured speaker was Uday Gajendar, the well known User Experience pro, lecturer, conference founder and business coach. His work has taken him to places like Citirx, Adobe, Oracle and Facebook where he established himself as a leading authority on Enterprise UX; the design and development of apps and software typically used inside a business rather than by the public.

Uday Gajendar presenting about Enterprise UX at UXPA Dallas UX Meet-Up hosted by Bottle Rocket

His presentation to an audience of about 65 local UX practitioners discussed User Experience in the context of "craft". Uday proposed that the same level of care and detail goes into the work but the result is less a “precious object” and more of a “facilitating anchor”. He recounted specific examples of success in large organizations and start-ups and pointed out the differences in the environments and their impact on the way people approach design.

The talk was followed by a question and response session giving the audience an opportunity to explore his concepts more deeply during which Uday offered more examples and great advice.

No matter the application, we love talking UX here at Bottle Rocket. Contact us today to find out how our team of experts can enhance your mobile user experience.

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