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I am starting to develop for all three major mobile platforms (Android, iOS, and Windows UWP), and have run into a UX issue a few times. Each platform has it's own design guide. Android has Material, Windows has Metro (I'm not sure what iOS's is called). Each design looks really good on its platform and only its platform. For example, Material looks beautiful on Android, but it would seem odd on iOS.

Now, I would like to follow these guidelines, and design per platform, but I feel that users would like it better if the app had a consistent design across all platforms. Furthermore, I also develop web apps, and since the web has no real "design guide", I would have to make yet another design. I could choose one design and make it universal across all platforms, but I feel like I would be performing some sort of "bad practice" to not use Metro and Material, and so on (plus, it may end up being harder to design and might look out of place).

In this scenario, what should I do? Use native styles for the different platforms, or create a single style, to be used across all platforms.

marked as duplicate by JohnGB Sep 30 '15 at 12:12

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  • I find Android apps that look and act like iOS apps clunky and difficult to use. And we use both devices. Branding your app should not extend too far. – Michael Hampton Sep 30 '15 at 8:01
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but I fell that users would like it better if the app had a consistent design across all platforms

Do a lot of your users carry around iPhones, Androids and Windows phones and use them interchangeably?

Probably not.

And if they did, they're likely power users already familiar with the different OS idiosyncrasies anyways.

Point being, from a user perspective, consistency across platform isn't likely all that important. It won't hurt, but isn't something most people would even notice.

  • Yep clarity trumps consistency. If your consistent with your look and feel then you won't be consistent with the design convention of the platform (so its a lose lose situation). But its much easier to use conventions than define your own. – Ty Fairclough Dec 7 '16 at 9:33
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There's the term "same same but different" meaning certain things across the apps should be consistent like the branding and visuals while at the same time it should be consistent with patterns used on each native platform.

You should ask yourself is it likely that users will switch between platforms often or will they be switching between apps on the same platform more? Otherwise it's going to be disorienting for them to change from native patterns they are used to across other apps compared to when using your app.

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Create a consistent UI. The styles of the platforms come and go. You have no control over it. When the current trend fades, you'll have to redesign. You're better off building your own image/style guide.

You should use some bits of the platform's design guide (icons etc), but definitely give your app an unique and consistent look especially if it's blending mobile and web.

EDIT I didn't make my answer clear the first time around. So, based on the comments, let me clarify.

You're right, people don't carry multiple devices around. A general user is not going to have an iOS device and an Android device side-by-side. I understand that argument. However, people COULD use an iOS device and the web app. OR they could use an Android device AND the web app. The web app is the common ground. If you design each interface to the overlords specifications, you won't have ANY common interface. You'll have a look for iOS. One for Android. One for Windows and one for your web app. So, in this case, creating a consistent UI (while adhering to the basic styles of each device) is the best way to go.

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    Remember the lessons of Mac Word 6.0 - people rejected it because it wasn't Mac-like. Overall, Windows and Linux users are used to apps that look non-native but Apple users are not. If you MUST have consistent UI emulate iOS look-and feel on the other platforms unless you feel like you don't need to sell your app to Apple users. – slebetman Sep 30 '15 at 8:29
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    speaking as a linux user, i'm pretty annoyed when an app is clearly styled after a different platform — it tells me i'm so second-class that the developer went out of their way to reinvent the other platform's toolkit rather than just use native ones. – Eevee Sep 30 '15 at 9:46
  • Consistency across platforms does not matter at all. Most people don't switch platforms all that often and barely anyone would ever notice that another platform looks different. They are just accustomed to how their current platform looks and works. There is nothing worse than an app that replicates the design and workflow of another platform. And just because you follow the guidelines of each individual platform you support does not mean you cannot have a consistent branding across all platforms. – Xaver Kapeller Sep 30 '15 at 10:21
  • Additionally keeping up to date with the current guidelines is important, especially for user experience. Only if all apps follow the guidelines can one create a consistent UI across the whole device. I think I don't need to mention that Apple will reject iOS apps that take too many freedoms with their design. – Xaver Kapeller Sep 30 '15 at 10:24
  • @Eevee: I agree, though do note that this answer does not specifically say to design the UI after any platform; it can also be seen as a "take the best aspects of each platform, but do that the same way for all platform versions". – O. R. Mapper Sep 30 '15 at 10:54
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There is an answer to this but I don't think I fully agree - and I would say the answer is also "it depends".

The ease of use on a mobile phone especially comes from having a similar design with a similar interface. If you know where the options for the contacts application are, you know where the options for the calendar are - the button will be in the same spot.

Coming from a slightly beleaguered product, the BlackBerry, I also have some Android applications on my phone and their interface is generally a horrible mess compared to the BlackBerry interface (although it has gotten better). Why? Everybody designed their own, some applications have an old interface, some a new one... Some have a single level menu some have multiple levels, some have pop out side menus, some don't...

So from this perspective, making the application user friendly will generally be best achieved by following the design standards or the look set forth by the platform as users will receive what they expect.

However, there is a BUT: IF an application is so simple that the number of menu entries and customisation settings are limited, designing your own interface may work best because the user won't use "the rest".

We applications are in this respect an independent topic: In this case, again looking at the BlackBerry, the "local elements" ideally follow the platform recommendation while the actual content is "service dependent". In addition, if all you do in a web application is serve a mobile website, why use the application? Once you add the functionality that makes using the application worthwhile you will possibly have to implement some kind of design rules again. In fact the "CrackBerry Application" may be a good example here: The major navigation follows the BlackBerry design - however if you open the forum tab you get what looks pretty much like their own (good, clear and concise ans user friendly) forum design.

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You should use the design per platform. There is nobody that will use it on android and iphone interchangeable. So there is no one who can think that the design is wrong, because they only have 1 design in mind. Consistent design across platforms is something a (normal) user would never notice.

  • I do - I have an android phone and I use the family iPad at home. – Aidan Hall Oct 22 '15 at 7:46
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    true, but are there a lot off apps you use on both "machines"? – roel Oct 23 '15 at 15:45
  • Yes - that's a fair point. There are a few common apps but I agree it's a corner case. (I still worry about rare cases because 0.1% of users on our apps is still amounts few thousand users.) – Aidan Hall Oct 23 '15 at 18:42
  • off topic: 0.1% relating to few thousand -> nice. I wonder what app you are talking about – roel Oct 26 '15 at 15:39

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