Designing Cross-Platform Experiences & the Four Cs

When designing a new product or feature, it’s important to think about the different types of platforms that the design will be experienced on. A platform is the medium that users experience your product on. Some common platforms are:

  • Desktop computers
  • Laptop computers
  • Mobile phones
  • Tablets
  • Wearables, like smart watches
  • TVs
  • Smart displays
Different platforms

A product might be experienced on countless platforms, but a desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile phones are the most used platforms for interact with apps and websites. In this article, we’ll go over key considerations when designing for different platforms to help you get started.

Screen size

The first consideration when designing for various platforms is adjusting design elements and features to fit different screen sizes. For example, you will have a lot of space when designing for desktop and laptop computers. Whereas, you will have to careful consider and prioritize elements for mobile phones because of the limited space. This means making every word, icon, and image count!

Interaction

In addition to the size of the screen, you also need to consider the way users interact with each platform and how those interactions might affect your design decisions.

It’s also critical to consider accessibility when developing your designs at each point. Different groups of people will interact with your product in different ways, like using a screen reader, closed captioning, or a switch device. To get started, it’s helpful to try using some of these technologies yourself, in order to understand how people with disabilities might interact with your product on different platforms.

Content layout

In the world of UX design, layouts refer to the way that information is organized on the screen. For instance, when designing for desktop or laptop computers, you have the advantage of working with a familiar, standarized size: landscape (horizontal) mode. The screen is wide, conent can be laid out in columns, and there’s much more flexibility to design.

In contrast, mobile phone content is usually laid out in portrait (vertical) mode, which is deal for scrolling. In addition, mobile phones often allow users the option to use landscape (horizontal) mode by rotating their device. Implementing this in your designs requires more work from you as a designer, but provides users with a wider range of options.

Consider the layout of content on a couple more platforms: tablets combine both the desktop and mobile phone user experience, which means you can incorporate aspects of desktop and mobile phone content layouts in your designs. Smartwatches tend to have compact square or rectangular screens, offering very little digital real estate to lay out content.

Functionality

There are a lot of reasons why users might choose one platform over another, but functionality and the kind of tasks they want to complete is a huge driver. Your designs for each platform will likely vary based on how and when you expect users to need the product.

The four Cs of designing for multiple platforms

Successfully designing across platforms means providing users with a good experience, no matter what platform they use! As a UX designer, your job is to make sure that your designs account for and take full advantage of the unique features of each platform. When preparing to design across platforms, it’s helpful to keep in mind the four Cs: consistency, continuity, context, and complementary.

Consistency: most companies have specific design guidelines that need to be followed in order to stay consistent with their brand identity, which refers to the visual appearance and voice of a company. When designing a product, it’s essential to stay true to the company’s brand guidelines in order to maintain consistency across platforms and drive brand awareness. Maintaining a consistent design helps improve the user experience and build trust, because users can expect the design to feel familiar across platforms and products.

Continuity: to provide users with a seamless experience as they move between platforms, UX designers also have to prioritze continuity. Continuity in design means that users can maintain their progress as they move from one platform to the next. The user experience for each platform might be slightly different, but the product’s functionality should still be connected. Without continuity, users can become frustrated if the progress of their experience does not carry across platforms.

Context: it’s also important to consider the context of each platform you’re designing for. This means thinking about when and how users prefer to interact with certain features on different platforms. Considering that a user might check their email on a smartwatch as they sit in their car after they get home from work, then designing with that situation in mind, is an example of context.

Complementary: one way to create a great cross-platform user experience is to make sure that the design of each platform adds sommething new for the user. Taking into account how each platform could uniquely enrich the overall user experience is the best way to create complementary UX designs.

Can you think of real examples that you experience daily?

Then apply the four Cs about to your examples. Can you see how subtle it is that first didn’t even notice of it? This is the best way to train your eyes to see and understand what works and doesn’t work in design.

Good luck!

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