Don’t reinvent the wheel.
When developing a new app, it can be tempting to redesign the entire experience based on your grand vision. However, building from scratch is often impractical because not only does it require extra work, but it also detracts the ideal user experience.
Touching on the first point, the complexity of building software scales exponentially, and thus added details often increase workload much faster than originally anticipated. Since development resources are often scarce to begin with, those additional features may result in delays to shipping product or in preventing updates from going out the door altogether. Therefore, it is crucial to distinguish between features that are critical versus features that are merely ornamental. The majority of the time, minor design elements can be saved for a future release.
Moving on, while the argument above appeals to those who are more business-minded, it doesn’t do much for designers who are staunch defenders of the user experience. This brings me to my second point, which is that utilizing precedents are great for improving app design. Oftentimes, a user already has a mental model of the task your software is enabling. In this case, it is usually better to be match the user’s world by extending the metaphors from the physical world or by replicating existing models from the digital world.
When virtual objects and actions in an application are metaphors for objects and actions in the real world, users quickly grasp how to use the app. An example of a software metaphor is the notebook. People write on sheets of paper within a notebook in the real world, so they immediately understand the idea of writing on screens of paper within a notepad app (NotesPlus, U-Pad, Paper). That being said, it is possible to stretch a metaphor too far. For example, the usability of software notebooks would decrease if they had to be organized into a virtual bookshelf. Careful decisions must be made to insure that just the right balance of skeuomorphic elements are present within the app.
Borrowing ideas from existing designs is beneficial because users will already be aware of how to operate your app by calling upon previously learned concepts of interacting with similar technology. This begets Effortlessness because users aren’t expending as much mental energy to accomplish their task, and also creates Consistency because your design matches implementations of what users have seen in the past. As difficult as it may be to hold back on creativity, most of the time, it’s better to be predictable than it is to be original.
To be clear, the platform standards (such as Apple’s Human-Interface Guidelines) are not hard-fast rules and there are appropriate moments for exploration and for leaving a mark. However, these instances are quite rare, so it’s important to remember that just because the app is new, doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel.