SpoolCast: Designing for Mice and Men: UI Across Platforms – Q&A with Bill Scott

Sean Carmichael

February 18th, 2011

Duration: 31m | 16 MB
Recorded: January, 2011
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The number of places that you can access the web grows every day. People can see your content on TVs, tablets and mobile phones as well as the more traditional desktop and laptop. But are you designing for it? How do your users see it? And more importantly, how are they interacting with it?

Bill Scott is the Director of UI Engineering at Netflix. He is responsible for making sure that the Netflix service looks as it should and works properly no matter how you access it. In this podcast, Bill joins Jared Spool and discusses the challenges and a few of the surprises that come with designing for multiple platforms.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…Luke Wroblewski, as you know, and others have started the “design for mobile first” which is really “design for constraints first”. You take a more-constrained view of what you can do in the application, either through input or screen size, maybe you’re on the go, and it forces you to think of the main things first. What are the most important items, tasks or goals that the user has, and design for those.

With the living room, with the left-right-up-down [of a remote control], something’s always focused. And you’re always moving from one item to the other. But then, when you move to a pointer-based [system], nothing necessarily has focus. You have random access to things on the screen; you can get to something quicker. With left-right-up-down, your keyboard is usually virtual, on the screen, and those still need a lot of work. We’re doing some A/B testing in April on some different on-screen keyboards to see what’s the right layout.

And then when you move to mobile and tablet, your input becomes more of the finger, thumbs and, swiping gestures. And then when you get back to the laptop, of course, you have the mouse and the keyboard. Mouse really is both a blessing and a curse, because it’s an indirect method. You can move it around just on either the trackpad or on your mouse pad. But you’ve got scrollbars, and scrollbars are really an indirect way to scroll. They’re not as direct, as physical as flicking your finger.

All this leads to that end of the screen. If I’m sitting across the living room, say 10-15 feet away from a television, what kind of text can I read on it? You have to think about how you design the text. Then the mobile, the screen’s small but it’s right there in front of you. And then the laptop, which you’ve got real high resolution. So you’ve got this output, the screen changes a lot.

And even the navigation. When I’m sitting in a living room, and I’m especially browsing for media content, I tend to be in a little bit lazier mode. I want things to kind of show up for me. I don’t want to have to work real hard to find something. If I’m on a desktop and I’m doing some research or something, I’m may be willing to click a lot, maybe type a lot. So, then your whole posture changes.

I think of input, screen navigation, and the posture of the person, not just the physical posture but their mental posture, as they start to use the application in those different scenarios…”

Tune in to the podcast as Bill addresses these additional points:

  • How has the changing landscape affected the way you think about design?
  • What are the things that you immediately have to take into account when going from a desktop experience to a mobile experience?
  • Is there a way to know what types of content need to be on which devices?
  • How have you been using Hack Days and how successful have they been?
  • What are the advantages of allowing users to do things like, sign up, directly from their devices?

Bill is also one of the Masters that will be joining us for the 2011 Web App Masters Tour. We’re coming to Philadelphia in March, Seattle in May, and Minneapolis in June. For more details such as dates, pricing, and agenda, visit UIEtour.com.


Register with the promotion code WAMT by February 23, 2011 for any of the Tour cities and get $100 off.

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