There are more factors to consider in UI development now than ever. Websites are just as likely to be accessed from mobile devices as they are from desktop or laptop computers, and their design needs to be clear and viewable on any platform. Below, we list ten examples of the year’s best UI design across websites, apps, operating systems and hardware.
Joining the growing pool of social networks, Pinterest really took off in 2012 with its easy-to-use interface and unique networking angle. The site appeals to many people who aren’t heavy computer users – the majority of its users are female – by letting people share their interests via an intuitive pinboard display.
Version control can be a terrifying ordeal when working collaboratively, and LayerVault helps lessen the trauma. The app is designed for the Mac OSX, running largely autonomously through the menu bar to help you keep track of changes made to projects and sync them to other users working on the same projects.
The interface has a vibrant colour scheme, and organizes projects into “cards”, which makes them easily distinguishable.
Launched in mid 2012, Polygon is a unique website detailing video game news, reviews and features, approaching the formula with a touch of class. Using Vox Media’s proprietary Chorus platform gives the site its own personality among gaming websites. Scrolling downwards, the homepage is made up of thumbnails of varying sizes, linking to articles. Highlights are featured in banners, and the whole package looks clean, modern and informative.
This snazzy little iPhone game takes the word-building fun of Scrabble (and subsequently, Words With Friends) and creates its own set of rules. Presented with a 5×5 grid of letters, players take turns making whichever words they can, using any letters on the board, to “capture” them. When there are no white letters left, whoever has captured the most with their colour wins.
It’s incredibly simple and tactile to play, with taps to select and drags to arrange letters. A minimal colour scheme – one player is red, the other blue – lets you instantly see who has control of the board, and makes it easy to single out letters for each turn.
It’s not hard to see how this picked up the Apple Design Award for 2012. From developer FiftyThree, Paper is a simple but deep drawing tool for tablets. There are no complicated buttons or settings to mess with, just tap to select, then draw. There’s a basic toolbar laid out along the bottom, which lets you swap between different instruments (fountain pens, pencils, brushes, etc), mix and choose colours from a set palette. The rest of the screen is your canvas, and drawing on it feels very natural.
Simplicity is the order of the day for Mosaic, a creative app for your iPhone and iPad that lets you arrange your photos into a virtual book, send off the plan and days later, receive a physical, printed copy.
Input is all tapping. Users can navigate through the photos stored on their device, select ones they like and sort them on virtual pages. Tapping each page scrolls in that direction. When you’re done designing the book, just hit the Place Order button, enter details and it will be in your hands in a few days.
The app, and the product, are built around convenience, and are successful.
An interesting development for Android devices, Google Now is currently in beta. It promises to deliver the information that’s relevant to you right as you need it, via a functional cards system. It does all this largely autonomously, meaning that the user doesn’t have to search for specific information. Convenience is always a selling point, and Google knows how to present information quickly and cleanly.
Melding social networks into the real world, Circle is designed to help you and your friends meet up, or meet new people with similar interests. The interface is clean and smart, with a central map indicating your GPS position, and icons to let you know how many of your Facebook/Circle friends are in the area. Big buttons across the bottom let you send direct messages to people, or check their profile.
You can even join public networks for people who share your interests, and use the app to let you know when someone else from that group is nearby. Say for example you want to meet other people in the equipment rental business; you can join a related network, and the app will tell you when someone involved, who you may want to meet, is within a certain distance.
While it sounds somewhat stalkerish, users can select from a variety of privacy settings, and can make themselves visible only to certain friends or groups, or completely private or public.
Nintendo’s latest console, the Wii U, features some interesting ideas. Gone are the clunky controllers that consoles usually force users to navigate with. The proprietary controller has a touchscreen mounted in it, meaning that the UI of most of the machine’s services are reminiscent of those for smartphones and tablets.
On the home menu, the TV will display icons floating above a plaza filled with avatars of players. These “Mii” characters will cluster around icons for games or services like YouTube, according to how many people are currently running the program.
Meanwhile, the screen in your hand will display a menu of icons similar to a smartphone home screen, letting users select things with a single tap, instead of awkwardly scrolling through options with a thumbstick.
Finally, in what is perhaps the most radical redesign in a number of years, Microsoft unveiled their new Windows operating system in 2012. Windows 8 is an attempt to unify the systems running across all of Microsoft’s devices, including desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, smartphones and, rumours suggest, even the next Xbox console.
The OS does away with the standard desktop, taskbar and folder system we’ve grown accustomed to over the last 20-odd years, and updates it to be more in line with the modern styles we see for touch-input devices.
Icons for programs are big, colourful, and fluid. Cloud storage plays an integral role, which is particularly useful if you are running it across several devices.
[author ]Linda Campbell is a freelance writer and blogger, with an interest in UI design. She’s currently looking for equipment rental with Rentsmart to help him with all his tech needs.[/author]