The Lazy User: Simplifying Interactions for the iPad

I’m lazy.

I grew up in the Internet age, with books, movies, and now pizza just a few clicks away. This convenience provided me, and those of my generation, an extremely short attention span when it comes to user interfaces (among other things, but thats another article). The easier and more efficient an interface gets, the more the expectations rise for even simpler functionality.

A generation ago, keying in line commands was the norm. Computers were the province of those who either built them or programmed them. It wasn’t until the commercialization of the computer that any though was put into simplifying the user interface, with early efforts made by Xerox and Apple.

Today, the battle continues. Although usability on the web and with operating systems has taken immense strides in the last 10 years, there is a new battleground: mobile.

Mobile interface requires a whole new economy in interaction. Not only is a designer working with far less screen space (especially with a phone), they are also dealing with users who have less time, versatile interactive tools (like a mouse for example), and attention span.

Which is what brings us to the iPad, the crown jewel of the tablet market. Since it is larger than its cousin the iPhone, there is more opportunity for deeper and more meaningful applications. If the iPhone is a consumer, the iPad is both consumer and producer.

It is the producing aspects that make the iPad unique to mobile interaction, making the temptation is great to make an app do all the same things in the same ways as a desktop application. What this means, of course, is more buttons.

Matt Gemmell said the iPad should “look like a viewer, behave like an editor,” meaning that by default, the screen of an iPad should be free of most UI clutter. A great example is Apple’s own Keynote app, which streamlines the desktop version, and manages to deliver the same functionality, but tailored to a touchscreen device.

The keys to simplification are simple: combine and contextualize.

If an interaction can be accomplished by using a 2 finger tap instead of 2 separate taps separated by a menu, then remove that step. If the user isn’t editing text, don’t display text editing tools.

The iPad represents a new way of thinking about human-software interfaces. The touch revolution has showed us that we can simplify things even further by removing the mouse from the equation. However, sometimes the old rules of software usability tempt us developers, and it is at that point that we must put the Lazy User first.