User experience for the small screen

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Andrew Yates from Buffer to talk about creating a great user experience on mobile devices.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This episode of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Media Temple and Fleep. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello dear listener and welcome to the pod cast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name’s Paul Boag and joining me as always is Marcus

Marcus: Hello.

Paul: No you don’t get to speak yet Marcus. We need to get slicker at this, working out when you get to say things.

Marcus: We are onto the second decade now of doing this, so we should be a little slicker but when not.

Paul: The second decade. Don’t say it’s like that, that’s terrible. Anyway, what I was going to say is that we are being joined today by Andy Yates from Buffer. Hello Andy.

Andy: Hey there.

Paul: Oh that sounded excited.

Andy: It’s 7 o’clock in the morning.

Paul: Yes. It’s not that Andy isn’t excited about being on the show, it’s simply that it’s very, very, early for you. And you just moved into a new office?

Andy: Yes so we’ve spent most of the week moving out of our existing office that’s been slowly getting emptier over the last few months.

Paul: It did amuse me, I was watching your time lapse video on twitter of you just sitting there and things disappearing around you.

Andy: Yes, so I sat on the floor for a little bit because somebody took the last seat, so yeah. Good fun. Still doing some work though, sat on the floor.

Paul: So what’s your new office like, is it nice?

Andy: Yes, it’s just a co-working space and it serves my favourite coffee in the city, so I can’t complain about that although it wasn’t quite open for this so I had to head to Starbucks to get my caffeine fix.

Paul: Ahh, see it’s just too early. So Andy, you and Buffer itself started off over here didn’t you in Blighty and at some point you decided to defect to San Francisco, what was all that about, when did that happen?

Andy: Yeah, so I was working at a web agency in 2011, basically I knew Joel, and was going to a coffee shop most weekends, working on side projects and then he shifted over from his old side project to Buffer and then he was working on that for quite a few months and then moved over to San Francisco to look for fundraising. And then I think it was about six months after that, he got in touch asking me I wanted to freelance for Buffer, but starting to build an iOS app. And then six months after that they asked me to go full-time which I think at that point everybody at Buffer was focused on moving to San Francisco. It wasn’t the idea for a remote team, so aiming compasses this way to move and I stuck with it. So I am the only person in the team to be still in the area.

Paul: Oh really? Okay. So it’s now very much a distributed team, is it?

Andy: So Joel and Leo who have been in San Francisco for the last couple of years, I think they’re currently in New York. They’ve been in Hawaii this year, I think they’ve popped over to Boston as well.

Paul: Wow, they really are moving around.

Andy: Yes and I think that’s going to continue. I think quite a few people on the team actually travel around a lot.

Marcus: So how many people are we talking about?

Andy: So, we are about 50 people now, I haven’t counted for a few weeks but it changes quite a lot.

Marcus: But still, trying to get 50 people to all move to one place in the world is, that’s a big effort.

Andy: Yes, back then I think it was five of us so it wasn’t as crazy to think about.

Marcus: Not so bad then.

Paul: And I guess you need people all over the place from a support point of view?

Andy: Yes, so one of the challenges there was trying to figure out how we can be really good at support, and that’s one of the things that I think Buffer has been really pushing forward, making sure our support is really good and as quick as possible. And having everybody on one time zone, which happens when we are on retreat, does make it a little bit more difficult, for capturing it when you should be asleep.

Paul: So you must be used to getting up at strange hours like this because you have people all over the world? You must work really weird hours, mustn’t you?

Andy: Yes, you’d think but I find it a little bit different just because if I was going to, if there was a massive issue with the iPhone app I still couldn’t get it fixed straightaway because of the app store and things like that. But yes it varies quite a lot so obviously catching up with people in Europe who are working on the iOS app means I have to make sure that there was some overlap there. More recently because the teams, last couple of weeks been waking up slightly earlier than normal. So getting into a good routine there.

Paul: We jumped right in to culture and life at Buffer but it’s worth me briefly explaining if you haven’t come across Buffer and I don’t know what you’ve been doing really. It’s essentially a tool that allows you to manage your social media channels so twitter, Facebook, all of them basically or a lot of them anyway. And what you can do is that you can post updates and is added to a buffer a queue of updates that are then pushed out at set intervals throughout the day, so it means that you don’t need to constantly be thinking about when you are sending the updates out. I use it really heavily because I sit in the evenings and I do a lot of reading and I read articles and I don’t want to just spam my followers with all of those in one go, so Buffer nicely spreads them out for me. That’s in essence it.

Andy, your role is what in the company?

Andy: So up until about a month ago I was the only iOS developer in the company. So I started building up the team there, so I’m building the iPhone and iPad app and any other iOS products that we come up with.

Paul: Now that’s quite interesting, so you’ve finally taken on other people because it always struck me that it was quite a lot for you to do because it’s a very well developed iOS app. You seem to have this way of putting out new features and new content on Buffer a lot faster than most people if it’s just you.

Andy: Yes, there’s quite a lot there to handle for one person and we have been hiring for quite a while so I think we’ve had a big focus on hiring so we’ve hired over 10 people which is crazy growth.

Marcus: Before that you didn’t have, let alone any holiday, any sleep?

Andy: I had holidays every now and again. One thing Buffer introduced was actually giving employees money to actually go away as there is an open vocation policy. But with that you don’t tend to go on holiday.

Marcus: Yes with that it’s funny how it works the other way around, isn’t it. Go on holiday whenever you like, no one goes on holiday.

Andy: When I was in the UK and I had a set number of days I use them all up, used them all early.

Marcus: Right.

Paul: See it’s interesting, because I’m a little bit cynical about that kind of, oh take as much holiday as you want, because it sounds so open and inclusive but actually you’re looking at everybody else and going how much have they taken, oh they haven’t taken much, I better not take much. But they would actually give you money to make you go on holiday, would they?

Andy: Yes there’s a set amount and then there’s also some set aside as well for dependents, wife, kids etc.

Paul: One of the really interesting things about Buffer, this is nothing whatsoever to do about what we’re supposed to be talking about today, but it’s got quite a unique culture by the Valley standards. You seem very, very open about pretty much everything, really.

Andy: When I started there wasn’t really a lot transparent but since then we’ve had transparent salaries, we’ve had transparent fundraising, tried transparent feedback.

Paul: How do you feel about having your salary posted on the Internet?

Andy: Initially it was a bit daunting but after a week or two the explanation of why we were doing it and all the benefits that have come from it just outweigh any negatives that are there. Not that I can really think of any.

Paul: What benefit do you think has come out of something like that?

Andy: One of the biggest ones is which surprised us a lot is hiring. We got a flood of people emailing in because obviously with the transparent salary formula they could work out roughly what their salary would be. I can’t remember what the figures were but we had quite a lot of emails that following week.

Paul: It’s interesting because I was reading that you’ve recently put out an update in terms of how much you’ve got in the bank, how many customers you’ve got, that kind of stuff. But I noticed it didn’t directly say whether you are profitable yet or what your income is, what your revenue is. I know this isn’t you, but where do they draw the line over that kind of stuff?

Andy: That’s a good question. I have no idea where they will draw the line. I think Joel and Leo are quite happy to be pretty open so if you asked the question about anything I’m pretty sure that they would respond with some figures. I think we actually do publish quite a lot. We also include the balance in the bank account each month and things like that.

Paul: It’s very cool, I find it fascinating that kind of approach.

Marcus: Scares the life out of me.

Paul: Why?

Marcus: I think it’s because it’s a different type of business to an agency business. I’m always concerned about if you start publishing things like internal salaries or what you’re charging, rates and all that kind of thing that it could come back and bite you up one day. I think that’s all it is.

Andy: We actually did an interesting post which split up where the money from, like if you pay for an awesome plan, where that goes and how much of the percentage goes on staff or treats and things like that.

Paul: Oh that’s interesting, I need to read that. As somebody that pays for an awesome plan, I’d like to know whether my money is being spent on booze or the next feature.

Marcus: Both Paul I’d suspect.

Paul: Fair enough, I’m quite happy with that. You’ve been there quite a long time so it must be a place you enjoy working, one presumes?

Andy: Yes, so it’s coming up to 4 years if you include my freelance time at Buffer. So yes, quite a while. Its great fun, I don’t really feel like it’s a job, it feels like it’s a hobby which I get is a really good thing.

Paul: Yes but it’s quite a lot of pressure in some ways, doing iOS app development as you do. And Buffer is not small, it’s becoming quite a prominent tool. And it’s a tool that, as someone who uses it regularly, I am very reliant upon. So it’s quite a high-profile bit of work and then you have a situation where if you release something and it’s not right you got to wait for Apple to do its thing. Do you feel the pressure of it or am I making it a bigger deal than it is?

Andy: Yes you definitely feel the pressure. We’ve just launched version 5 of the app which we started working on in May just before Apple’s conference. But with those bigger updates you definitely feel more pressure because you’re changing so much of it and then you put it out. Even with 100 or 200 beta testers you don’t catch all the little edge cases.

Paul: I’ve actually found an edge case, I reported it yesterday.

Andy: Interesting.

Paul: Is a great example actually of just how much of a pain in the asked it must be because the particular edge case that I found is that if the app is closed, this is on iOS nine and on a new iPhone 6S

Andy: Is this the 3-D touch shortcut?

Paul: Yes. The 3-D touch shortcut thing which brings up a compose button doesn’t fire straight into compose. It opens the app. That’s a nightmare isn’t it because you probably didn’t even have a phone to coach that with until recently?

Andy: That was an interesting one because the simulator we got after that announcement didn’t have a way of simulating 3-D touch and I don’t think it does at the moment so yes, things like that are really tricky so quite a few people held off on implementing.

Paul: Yes because we had a little conversation on Twitter where I was saying Tweetbot haven’t implemented any 3-D touch and you came back and said, oh no it wasn’t you actually, it was somebody else who came back to me and said that it was because they couldn’t emulate it. And so you don’t blame people then. But that’s what I mean about how you seem to implement things very quickly.

Andy: There’s a funny story with that, we actually implemented for our 5.0.1 update. But Apple rejected 5.0 so obviously you’d then bundled everything that we fixed into 5.0 so would have shipped on time. So that was one of the reasons why we got it superquick.

Paul: Because they rejected you?

Andy: Yes.

Paul: Does this happen a lot? What did they reject you over?

Andy: So initially, this is the first version where we got in app subscriptions so there were some issues with the app subscription where we need to detail information about the plans and terms and conditions like you need to cancel before the last 24 hours of your plan and if you don’t it will rollover. And then there was also a restore purchases button in the actual app that we needed to add in there. And the second rejection was just a bug with the watch app.

Paul: Do you see that process of going through the Apple approval process as an annoyance to you or is it actually reassuring that there is somebody doing a final quality control check on it?

Andy: It’s definitely reassuring. The watch app was a pretty big one. I’d actually seen the crash reports come in from Apple testing it and fixed it before they gave me a call saying they’re going to reject the app, which is the first time they ever rang me which was an interesting conversation. But definitely reassuring. They haven’t always caught the issues though so we’ve definitely had cases where the app has got the app store and there’s been like a massive issue with the screen just being black and it not doing anything. And I’m not sure how that’s gone through.

Paul: Is like any system, it can fail on humans can’t it? Anyway, let’s push forward and try to get into the discussion of what we going to be talking about today. The reason why we got Andy on the show today is to talk about designing user experiences for smaller screens. But before we get into that but is quickly want to talk about our sponsor which is Media Temple.

It was interesting that Andy was just talking about this with Buffer, that Buffer prides themselves on their support. And that’s one of the best things in my opinion about working with Media Temple, the quality of support you get. Because yes you can get cheaper hosting elsewhere but when things go wrong you want really fast support because when they go wrong the go seriously wrong when it comes to hosting. So that support is really important. Not only is it the speed of support in my experience, how quickly you can get to speak to someone, it’s also how experienced those support staff are. Do they really know their stuff not and that is one of the things that I’ve absolutely loved from Media Temple. You actually talk to someone that doesn’t treat you like an idiot. You know sometimes when you have to ring up your broadband supplier and you get put through to a call centre in India, who are working through a list of pre-defined questions. Have you restarted your router? All that basic stuff.

You don’t get any of that with Media Temple, you get people that know their stuff and will treat you as a grown-up which is brilliant. They’ve got super-fast answers for emails or tweets or for anything like that, they respond really quickly. They also offer live chat facility and 24/7 call support. But they’ve also got a really nice incident system update pages that is actually updated regularly and you can actually see what’s going on which is great. They also have sensitive self-help resources and an amazing community and all the rest of it. So definitely check them out from a support point of view. If knowing that you’ve got that good support behind you is important then definitely give Media Temple a look and you can get a special discount as a Boagworld listener using the promo code Boag for 25% off of that hosting and go to and enter the promo code upon signup.

Discussion about designing native apps

Paul: So we are doing a series on user experience design and of course one of the huge areas these days is mobile design. These days? It’s been like it for years now. Yeah young people today like to play with their mobile devices, so yes. We wanted to talk about it as part of the series.

Now my instant reaction I have to confess, oh we’re going to talk about small screens, let’s get someone on who knows about responsive design. And then I thought no Paul, naughty Paul. Because user experience, I think as somebody from a web background, I am naturally inclined frame things in terms of the web because I know the web, I use the web for everything and I think of the web as the solution. But actually obviously that’s not the reality for the majority of users and native apps are a huge area, an area we haven’t really looked at before. So I thought to myself, what cool apps to I like using? And obviously Buffer, if I could only install three apps on my iPhone, Buffer would be one with Evernote and Omnifocus would be the other two. Marcus if you could only have three apps which ones would you have? I bet it won’t be Buffer.

Marcus: No, I would have to confess I don’t use Buffer. I don’t really tweet that much.

Paul: No you don’t and even Facebook you only occasionally, when you do use Facebook more.

Marcus: Yes that’s just for personal stuff really. I do use Evernote but not on my phone. What do I use a lot?

Paul: Too long. Can’t be bothered. You didn’t answer fast enough.

Marcus: It’s really dull things like news and weather.

Paul: BBC News app.

Marcus: That and BBC sport app, Whatsapp.

Paul: Nobody cares.

Marcus: Yeah, dull stuff.

Paul: I bet Andy, you have good apps. What’s your favourite app? From a design point of view or usefulness point of view?

Andy: I’d probably have to say Tweetbot, especially the latest Tweetbot 4.

Paul: It’s nice. Have you seen all this controversy? I’ve been in arguments today. Paid updates and all this business, what’s your thoughts on that?

Andy: I know they work on it quite a lot because I’ve been part of the beta a good couple of months so I know there’s a lot of changes so I’m happy to pay the extra each time as a new version, especially now as its universal and it means you don’t have to buy twice on two different devices.

Paul: Oh yeah. It just got up my nose that did, that whole conversation. And it’s not an expensive app.

Andy: Is just a coffee, basically.

Paul: I know, that’s not what was supposed to be talking about. Let’s do some of the actual questions.

Bearing in mind my whether bias, my first question is why at Buffer did you decide you needed native apps, because obviously it started as a web-based app, why do that decision get made to start looking at native apps?

Andy: That’s an interesting one as I was hired to build the iOS app so the decision was already done.

Marcus: Predated you.

Andy: But I think my thoughts on it and why Buffer decided to go down that route was because we didn’t actually have an API at that point. So it was all so like a two birds, one stone situation of building native apps for speed and experience there while also building out the API at the same time. So any endpoints that we needed on the apps as we were building them, it built out the API as well. Which the API has been quite a big thing for us forgetting included in other apps are getting their name out there so obviously if you see a Buffer icon in another Twitter app then you can click on it and find out what it is and it brings people in that way.

Paul: That’s really interesting that developing the API at the same time and time those two projects together.

Andy: It was an interesting project, so building out the API initially the UI side of things and then obviously implementing it as we were going along.

Paul: So do you do both the UI, well you must do, the UI and the coding then?

Andy: So back then, yes. So that’s why the first version of the app to change profiles you had to swipe left or right in the scroll view. And if you had like 20 accounts you had to keep swiping. It was terrible. There were screenshots on Google but at this point it’s pretty rare that I do any of the design. I might allow something out and go with that more recently we’ve had designers come in.

Paul: Are they in-house designers would you use external people?

Andy: In-house.

Paul: Right, no that’s good. That’s interesting. For me, I think the reason why Buffer makes such a good native app is because it’s the kind of thing that you use a lot if that makes sense. And also because it needs to be, especially when things like extensions came along, I could be reading something on mobile Safari and easily send that link across to Buffer for sharing. It’s that deep integration combined with the fact that you need to use it a lot that really makes it sensible in my opinion. Does that sound about right?

Andy: Yes. Definitely with extensions. That’s helped a lot. Prior to that we actually had a Safari bookmark, which actually discovered yesterday the 40 people still use. So we actually still support that which is interesting that it still actually getting some usage.

Paul: Yes that’s kind of good. I wonder if that’s because people haven’t upgraded or it’s just become a habit?

Andy: So the tracking we added actually from iOS 8 onwards so it would be around, it’s just installing the bookmark and extension, they take about the same amount of time. The processes aren’t as easy as they could be so we are trying to figure out a better way to actually teach users to actually how to get that installed and share from Safari and other apps.

Paul: Apple don’t make it particularly easy with these kind of things. The number of apps that that are having to explain that you have to go into settings. Keyboards are another great example aren’t they? Go into settings, go into keyboard, and allow full access, all these hoops you have to jump through to do stuff. I can understand why they don’t automate it because otherwise app developers will be setting these things up and it would just irritate people. But on the other hand you feel it should be a bit easier.

Andy: Yes this same sort of flow for content blockers as well.

Paul: Yes that’s the other one. And content blockers, yes that’s a whole other subject.

Right sorry, my computer keeps putting the screensaver on so I lose my questions. There we go we are back. Okay, so do you think from your perspective that native provides a better user experience than web-based stuff? Have you always been, have you got a web background?

Andy: Yes, so prior to Buffer I was building websites most of the time. HTML, CSS was my background before jumping over to the iOS side of things.

Paul: So what’s your feeling over this kind of debate about native, not native, which is better, that kind of thing?

Andy: I think when anybody usually asks me whether they should build something I always lean to native and always have done.

Paul: Why is that?

Andy: Back then I probably didn’t have good reasons for it but I think now it’s just not having to emulate what the native OS does, things like animations never feel quite right, loading never feels quite right.

Marcus: I think it comes back to what Paul was saying, last question about whether Sony is going to be used a lot. We have been approached, not so much now but three or five years ago by many organisations who said can you build is an app? And it was often for one of use so was actually more difficult. It would make user experience more difficult for these attacks download an app rather than have a responsive website for example. So I think that’s the big thing for me is whether if an app is going to be used a lot then chances are it’s certainly going to be easy to use as a native app. But if you’re only going to do it once for that experience then chances are it’s not worth doing.

Andy: Yes the other side of that as well where Apple push you not to simply make a native version of your website. That’s not what they want, they want an app that that actually does have features. So back in the early days the first couple of apps I did were basically native versions of website and sometimes they were just get rejected because there were no features there. You’d have to add in maps and things like that, that wouldn’t necessarily be possible on the web outside.

Paul: I think it’s a no-brainer where when you’re talking about something that very task heavy, I always think native tends to work better. But the ones I kind of question things like the BBC news app. What the advantages are a very responsive site in that kind of scenario? Marcus wide you have the native app installed rather than using the website?

Marcus: I actually use the website even though I’ve got the app installed. I just don’t think it’s designed quite how I would like it to be and that’s the only reason I’ve got. I’m so used to using the website if I was going to use the app I would want it to be like the website which is anti-Apple policy, what Andy just said. But yes I just find it a bit clunky, but that’s because I don’t use it very much I guess. So I agree with you on that one.

Andy: So I actually have the BBC News app and I think the only reason I have it is for the push notifications which I get every now and again, which you wouldn’t be able to get with their web app.

Marcus: That’s true.

Paul: You can do push notifications with a web app mind, can’t you? Because I get updates from Smashing Magazine via push notifications.

Andy: It might not be as easy as

Paul: It’s certainly not as annoying as the BBC News ones. It makes me jump every time I get a notification from the BBC News site because it’s this kind of very authoritative BBC jingle, isn’t it.

Andy: Is when you embedded you have it at 6 o’clock in the morning, and you reminisce about the UK because you haven’t heard that the time the six months.

Paul: Ahh, do you miss home? Obviously not because you’ve chosen to stay.

Right, next question. What things do you need to really consider when designing these kinds of mobile apps? Because obviously it’s a different process, is a different use case, so I’m kind of interested in the things that you think you need to consider for it.

Andy: Especially when we are building new features for Buffer just can’t shrink down a feature and think that’s it, it’s going to work on mobile like zooming out on your browser just wouldn’t work. So you have to take out features, so I think the good thing that were working on right now is insights in the iOS app. So obviously lots of graphs, but we can’t add all the features that we have on web to the app itself so we take out little things that might not make sense or would make the experience bit too complicated. The other thing we do quite a lot is prototyping. So for version 5 we actually went away and had a really early version of what we had designed up and I think probably the biggest we prototyped was reordering. Reordering in our app is pretty confusing because it set to the schedule that you have on your Buffer account. You have four slots in the today slot, five in tomorrow and then if you reorder then you have to work out where all the updates shuffle to. And it’s never been the greatest experience and it’s one that we still need to work on quite a lot. We prototyped this feature you pick an update and you could just simply scroll without having to long press. And it would have a gap at the back until you press done. It worked quite well, it was fast but it just didn’t feel quite right so we never actually carried on. But yes, prototyping those different things and seeing how they feel on a real device.

Paul: So by saying prototype, you make them work on a device itself so you can actually play with it?

Andy: Yes, you don’t go too far with it so I think we just used all native UI. We didn’t style anything up. But having it actually on the device helps. If it was in the simulator then you will get the feel for like where your thumb is on the screen, whether you are hiding things that are necessary to see.

Paul: And that such an important part of mobile design, it is the tactile experience of it, the animation, the way things respond when you press them. And I guess things like 3-D touch is becoming a bigger and bigger deal as well. Those kind of nuances that could only really be done on a physical device.

Andy: Yes there are so many different ways to input into the device. So obviously you’ve got the gyroscope, accelerometer, so we actually have a shape to shuffle feature in the app.

Paul: Which is brilliant, I use it all the time.

Andy: You should actually teach people that it’s there, instead of accidentally triggering it. There are things like that you can think about, especially now with 3-D touch, is got ways of previewing content quickly instead of having to go into it and close out of it again. I think that’s just going to speed things up for people who are using apps.

Paul: But it’s quite interesting isn’t it, 3-D touch because it’s interesting looking at iOS development at the moment. You almost beginning to be faced with some of the challenges and principles of web design. For example now the iPad does split screen, you’re really having to think responsively in terms of the interfaces that you create. And then with something like 3-D touch that’s not all available on all iOS devices so then you’re talking about enhancement features. So I’m finding that quite interesting to see the progression there.

Andy: Yes so if you look back at the past keynotes at Apple’s WWDC they like to drill into you that you should be using auto layout to layout your views and things like that. I think they’ve been doing that for quite a while, so trying to get you ready for this. So for us to do multitasking for version 5, I think it took me about 20 minutes to get it working for the initial version just because we use auto layout. So think there were just a few UI elements that didn’t quite resize correctly so we had to just adjust those but it was fairly easy for us. But yes you have to definitely think about that sort of stuff and it is definitely moving to where web is or was. It’s different, especially now with inputs, with 3-D touch you have to start thinking about that on top of whether you should use that to do reordering or long press, different types of gestures.

Paul: And what you do when 3-D touch isn’t there. You’ve got to fall back on another approach. And you can also get into a bizarre situation which I’ve done a couple of times with 3-D touch, where is got confused about whether I am doing a long touch or a 3-D touch because I’m not quite used to it yet, so that makes things go wrong.

Andy: I’ve been doing exactly the same this past week, looking at what we can do with the peak and pop for links and updates and it was triggering long press because I’m not just force touching, or 3-D touching I should say. So it’s definitely tricky and I think over the next couple of months you’ll see different implementations of what 3-D touch is and I’m not sure whether there is going to be a norm.

Marcus: I’m looking forward to getting my iPhone 6S soon, but slightly with trepidation because being a lefty and currently still on the 5S I can just about stretch my thumb across the screen to buttons that have been put in place for right handed people. But am wondering whether I can be able to do that on the larger phone, things like that.

Paul: Will I know, because of damaged a tendon in my thumb I can’t do thumb-reaching things like that anyway, I have to peck at it anyway so I am fine. I don’t care about your problems. But that is an example of a common design mistake that you see people make with apps, is in the placement of buttons and items that you then cover up or if you are left-handed you can’t quite reach. But I’m curious as to what other kind of common things that you’ve seen Andy, in terms of core cups that people have made in designing mobile apps?

Andy: So I’ve had the chance to meet a couple of Apple designers at WWDC and oversee they are quite keen on people using native controls for everything. I think nowadays it’s not so bad but in the past the people going out the way are making their own crazy UI for doing different tasks, it’s definitely better now, having being guilty of it in the past and swung the other way now where we are trying to use as much native stuff as possible as in Apple provided stuff, and then only customising it if we need to tweak the branding. Another big thing is minimising the number of caps so in version 4 of our app, adding an image, you actually had to tap add an image then on that view you had used last photo, select a photo from camera roll, all these options. In the latest version it’s just on compose, on the route view and it would just bring up the selector. We’ve moved quite a few of the elements down from the top to the bottom to make it easier for your thumb.

Paul: I tell you having more clicks than necessary just drives me round the twist. It’s like Omnifocus, you can get really deep down in an individual project and to get back to the home screen you have to keep clicking. Recently I discovered if you click and hold on the icon or press and hold it takes you back. But for ages I didn’t realise that, and it just drove me round the twist.

Andy: Yes, just little shortcuts like that, so we’ve added if you tap on the tab bar at the bottom if you are on that view already, it will scroll to the top so you don’t have to stretch to tap the status bar.

Paul: I tell you one thing with your app, talking about extra taps that I am interested in, you’ve now got a situation where if I create a message to send, if there is a link associated with it I’ve now got a second screen saying whether I want to say anything about it on Facebook. I want to get rid of that. Let me turn that off.

Andy: I wish we could. It was actually a Facebook compliance policy thing that we actually had to add that in. There was a post on our open blog as to why we had to add that in. But we had to add that on web so Facebook actually disabled the app for a short period of time, so on another post were actually going back to Facebook but we actually managed to rectify that pretty quickly. But I can totally understand why they are doing it so it’s just so apps don’t pre-fill content, make you say something that you don’t want to say.

Paul: Ahh OK. I guess I find that acceptable.

Andy: So were trying to make it easier for you so you can actually copy the title from the link attachment on the screen and paste it in but we can’t have a button that says copy and paste title.

Paul: Right.

Andy: That was definitely tricky one to try and get the experience as good as possible. Obviously it’s not a restriction on our side it’s just that Facebook don’t want us doing it so we had to figure out a good solution there. And oversee people who have been using the app that quite a few years it’s quite a new step and we have to deal with all the tweets and comments say why is this an extra step, can I turn it off?

Paul: Just like I have basically. Well I like to be predictable. Do you think designing for the web and native apps have become now a radically different skill set? For example does it annoy you when a web designer talks about, oh yes we design native apps too in the same way print designers say, oh we build web sites too? Have they become too different and should they be considered different disciplines do you think?

Andy: I don’t think so. Every designer I’ve worked with at Buffer has easily switch between web and native and so it might be that I’m just really fortunate there but I don’t think it’s too radically different. I think a designer being a designer and using their phone they are going to pick up on the common UI for a different element. Doing that they probably get a really good idea of how things should be laid out, what elements to use a different things. I think you just need a slightly different thought process on the screen real estate. And then maybe digging into Human Interface guidelines that Apple and Google provide.

Paul: Yeah which are really good. They are really thorough guidelines and very useful from what I’ve seen of them. So at Buffer do you have a separate team or individual that is working on android and other platforms one presumes?

Andy: Yes we have an android team, at the moment it’s just one guy.

Paul: Well that’s a team, a team of one.

Andy: We found it really easy to hire iOS developers not so easy for android so we have iOS and android but we don’t actually have a team for things like Windows phone or anything like that right now.

Paul: So do you outsource that at the moment?

Andy: No so we just don’t have a Windows phone app. It might be one that we explore I know Microsoft are announcing some stuff where we could possibly port over our iOS app.

Paul: So all the changes that have been happening, the impression that I’ve got is that Apple have done quite a lot in the more recent iOS updates in terms of APIs and back-end functionality. Is it Swift as well, the new language that’s available to use? Do you feel like the tools are maturing for you?

Andy: Definitely. We don’t actually use any Swift in the app at the moment. I am chatting to a few developers in San Francisco about how the switch is gone for them. Because you can actually introduce it a bit by bit and then we code anything that is new. I don’t think we’ll do a whole rewrite for one version. I definitely think it’s easier for iOS developers to get into it now, people wanting to be iOS developers.

Paul: It is what the cool kids do now though isn’t it? Working on the web, that’s so 1994 isn’t it?

Andy: Yes for me was more 2009.

Paul: So what about the future then, where’d you think things are going to go from the native app standpoint in terms of user experience on mobile devices and functionality and interfaces and that kind of stuff? There’s an easy question.

Andy: I’d quite like to see, a little bit of a biased view, but I’d like to see the extension side of things improved a lot. That experience that we are not responsible for so installing the extension, making that super easy. But obviously that’s a bit biased to iOS. But then things like 3-D touch and new technologies that Apple keep coming out with like how they tweak the behaviour of users, how they expect things to be shown when they 3-D touch on the screen. I think the 3-D touch as well is just going to improve things speed wise insanely different aspects like previewing a link, previewing an image, you don’t have to open it fully and then go back again.

Paul: I have to say when I first saw them demonstrate 3-D touch I thought this feels like a bit of a gimmick to sell the 6S once you actually get it in your hands and you actually start using it is actually quite a profound change isn’t it? In how the user interaction happens.

Andy: Yeah, I haven’t…

Paul: You obviously don’t share my enthusiasm for it.

Andy: I haven’t actually used it that much.

Paul: Yeah, whatever, it’s there.

Marcus: I haven’t used it at all yet, so I can’t comment.

Paul: It’s very nice. Nice and shiny. Paul likes shiny things. Which is why I love being on Andy’s beta testing list because I get to play every time there is a new test flight update for Buffer, let’s have a little play with that and see what he’s done now. You keep me entertained Andy.

Andy: I’ve got plenty of things in the works.

Paul: I’m just so gobsmacked at how quickly they come out, I can’t keep up sometimes. You release things to the beta list incredibly quickly. It’s like multiple times a day sometimes.

Andy: My GitHub history for version 5 towards the end was little bit crazy. I think I had a 33 day streak where I was submitting builds over the weekend. And oversee now with a team of three we can be even quicker. The test rate for external, we are limited to 2 a day.

Paul: Oh well that’s good.

Andy: A bit of a Buffer for you.


Paul: Right, let’s quickly talk about our other sponsor for this week. Today’s sponsor is Fleep. Now you may or may not have heard of Fleep. How do I describe it you? It’s something I’ve been involved with for a length of time, so Fleep is the next generation of messengers so if you think about something like Slack that has become so universally loved amongst the design and developer community, Fleep feels to me like the next step on from that. It’s got very tight email integration so essentially where Slack needs you to participate in its little Slack world, Fleep doesn’t presume that which makes it a really good tool for communicating with your clients over. Because they don’t need to sign up for Fleep, they don’t even need to know that you’re using it, but when they send you emails it can go into Fleep and become part of the conversation that you are having in Fleep. So it’s a really good way of managing your projects and managing your communications and getting out of the email client if you so wish, which I know many of us are sick of email and dealing with that.

The other things it’s got like audio video calling built into it and screen sharing so all of that is on hand, it’s this nice communication hub which is great. It’s also got a nice pin board functionality say you know when on Slack somebody says something on Slack and it gets lost in the stream and you have to search for it, and it happens on email doesn’t it, well with Fleep you can pin those particular messages to the side so that they are always available. You can also turn messages into tasks as well which is a really nice little feature. And the bit that I like the most, and I’m trying to think how this works on Slack, I don’t think Slack has got the equivalent of it, I am just opening Slack to see, but essentially it will notify you when someone has read your particular message, and Slack doesn’t do this. So you know whether people have seen what you are doing and are just choosing to ignore you.

Marcus: It only does that if you include their name in Slack.

Paul: Ahh it does it with the name, will this does that universally which is quite useful. Like Slack they got lots of integration and all the other cool stuff that you’d expect from this kind of platform. You can find out more about Fleep and give it a test drive absolutely free at So there you go that is Fleep.

Marcus do you have a joke for us?

Marcus: I do and I think this is one from Leigh, so you can guess the quality of it.

Why do Marxists drink green tea?

Paul: Go on, why do Marxists drink green tea?

Marcus: Because all property is theft.

Paul: That is awful.

Marcus: I thought it was quite clever actually but there you go.

Paul: Well it is clever, it’s a clever pun on words but it’s not funny. The joke is supposed to be funny.

Marcus: Well it appeals to my sense of humour.

Paul: Andy I’m sorry you had to put up with that. It just goes with the territory afraid. So Andy thank you so much for coming on the show, I hope it wasn’t too painful and thank you for giving us a bit of a glimpse into the world of mobile app design.

Andy: It was great to be here.

Marcus: Thanks very much Andy.

Paul: Next week we are going to be looking at running a UX workshop with James Box you’ll be pleased to hear Marcus because I know you like James.

Marcus: I do and it’s also something that I can probably add a bit more to it than this week’s conversation.

Paul: Well I am at the edge of my knowledge when it comes to native apps. It’s a good job we had Andy here, he did a sterling job at answering questions with us going I don’t know. So James is our next week he is the co-author of a brilliant book that I’ve raved about a lot called Undercover UX. So between now and next week your homework is to go on by Undercover UX and read it. It will be worth it trust me. So come back and join us next week we will talk about running a UX workshop. But until then thanks for listening.

Marcus: Bye.