Sunday, January 17, 2016

Native UX or Conway's Law?

organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs
which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations
— M. Conway
A pet peeve of mine is applications that are available on different platforms, but are substantially different on each platform. I realize that I'm probably unusual in working roughly equally on Windows and Mac. But even if most people work on a single platform, why make the application unnecessarily different? Isn't that just more work for support and documentation.

I recently listened to a podcast where an employee mentioned that her focus was on making sure their Windows and Mac versions weren't "just" identical, but matched the native user experience. That sounds like an admirable goal. The problem is, their versions have differences that are nothing to do with native UX.

Obviously standards vary between platforms. Do you call it Settings or Preferences? And it makes sense to match the native conventions. But in general those are minor things.

But changing the layout of the screen? Or the way things are displayed? Or the text on buttons? There really aren't any "standards" for those things. And therefore "native" doesn't justify making them different.

I suspect that "matching the native UX" is often a justification for Conway's law. Different teams are developing the different versions and they do things different ways. Coordinating to make them consistent would take more effort so it doesn't happen, or not completely.

My company contracted out the development of our mobile app. The company we contract to believes in "native" (i.e. not portable) apps. They also have a process where different teams develop different versions, so they can be platform experts. The end result - our app is unnecessarily different on different platforms. And any change takes twice as much work. Not to mention having to fix bugs in multiple implementations.

It's sad that after all these years we still don't have a good story for developing portable applications.

Except that's not quite true. We have the web and browsers. And tools like Cordova and Electron that leverage that. And contrary to belief, users don't seem to have a lot of problems with using web apps that don't have native UX.

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