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Summary:

With its new iOS app, Clear, Realmac Software has taken the “less is more” axiom to its ultimate conclusion. Fjord’s Alfred Lui and Aynne Valencia explain why we’ll soon see more of this stripped-down approach to interface design, thanks to three big industry trends.

Fjord_iPhone Screenshot 3

With its new iOS app, Clear, Realmac Software has taken the “less is more” axiom to its ultimate conclusion. The Clear app puts a new spin on the common to-do list by enriching it with a playful perception of depth, dynamic transitions and crisp audio feedback, all wrapped under a minimalistic visual language and shallow navigation.

Is this “less is more” approach revolutionary? Nope. Evolutionary? Absolutely.

As designers, we admire Clear’s UI, and we think it ties into some trends we’re watching here at Fjord (a digital service design agency). We’re betting that we will see more of this stripped down approach in the near future thanks to three big industry trends:

1.   A “mobile first” approach to features

The small-screen real estate of mobile devices has forced companies to scale down the bells and whistles and extraneous content afforded by the web, prioritizing features and services that make the most impact for the business and customer experience.

This also means that, in order to be successful, these types of applications are focused on a very narrow subset of features. In the case of Clear, not only did the company select the most rudimentary functions in a to-do list, it also followed through with a minimalistic form in the interface.

A simple interface requires paring down interactivity to its barest essence. It requires prioritizing features and focusing on the essentials needed for the desired outcome. The challenge is to know how much you need to create a viable and desirable product, how much can be stripped away, and how to prepare for scaling up the product and service. It will be interesting to see how these applications evolve and scale (or choose not to).

2. Thinking in 4-D and making the user a magician

User interface designers are beginning to realize there is no longer a need to hang on to representations of real life objects and drag them into the digital space. Digital is something else. It gives the user magical powers. It is no longer the user, a mouse and a complicated ballet of hand eye coordination. It is the user directly manipulating a screen or an object to access a magical, four-dimensional world (time, space, people, information) that exists invisibly almost anywhere the user goes. Clear’s focus on gestural UI bestows this sense of magic by escaping the traditional paradigm of check boxes and text inputs that normally exist with digital to-do lists.

3. Getting Agile with it

Both designers and mobile platforms are pushing toward cinematic user interface designs. While motion is nothing new in every day life, appropriately and meaningfully adopting it into consumer-facing applications poses a new set of challenges for designers who are more accustomed to formulating designs using static wireframes. A new prototyping and blended-discipline approach to software and product development such as the Agile method and the new Lean UX movement are making it easier and more acceptable than ever before to create and communicate dynamic, looks-like, feels-like prototypes. This has allowed for a cinematic approach to design that employs more dynamic movement. And much like a good movie, the most crucial bits are often found between those still frames.

It’s exciting to see Clear’s bold interface and the new capabilities it presents. But the Clear app is just a hint of the exponentially more thrilling interfaces we are likely to see in a coming wave of more complex products and services that will go far beyond the to-do list.

Alfred Lui and Aynne Valencia are service design leads at Fjord, a digital service design consultancy. Fjord has provided strategic direction and design for such brands as Nokia, Citibank, Foursquare and Yahoo. You can follow them on Twitter at @fjord.
Image courtesy of Realmac Software.
  1. Clear’s interface is nice. But it’s oversimplified and won’t really help you get things done. http://theairspace.net/apps/getting-things-done-is-not-so-clear-app/

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    1. It works well for me!

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  2. Blake J. Graham Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Clear’s interface is exquisite, to be sure. But it’s too simple, doesn’t port to other applications well and won’t really help you get things done. http://theairspace.net/apps/getting-things-done-is-not-so-clear-app/

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  3. Nice review, I enjoyed that, thanks.

    I also grabbed Clear and really liked it, left my review here:
    “Quick Review: Clear for iOS, The Art of ToDo” ( http://bit.ly/yoIMcz )

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  4. Sometimes boiling down to simple essentials isn’t enough. Clear’s simplicity and interesting gestures don’t add enough functionality and makes some hard compromises, like how much text can be entered (no line wrapping) and no details like notes or due dates. VERY simple.

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    1. Stephen Hagans Monday, February 20, 2012

      If you have Siri dictation, you can get around the character count by inputting your todo’s with that.

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  5. Wow, this is a really silly article.

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    1. agreed

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  6. Meh, I think this works because it is a super simple task and is more novelty than utility. Check out http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/5-ios-behaviors-your-users-probably-don%E2%80%99t-know/ & http://www.uie.com/articles/design_intuitive/ for reasons why you might want to think twice before stuffing your app with gestures for every action. UX isn’t just about flashiness, some people want the app to get out of the way so they can just get their task done as efficiently as possible.

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  7. Fedor van Herpen Monday, February 20, 2012

    Also tried the app immediately since it was so hyped :-) But clearly the app is overhyped. The app is too simple: I cannot assign tasks to specific dates and times, nor set any alarms. This means that the app will never be top of mind…

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  8. I don’t understand why everyone’s complaining about the app being so simple. That’s the point. It is a simple reminder app. That’s it. It’s so simple that you actually want to use it not the mention the interface navigation is pretty cool! I got the app today and immediately put it to use. Apps don’t help you get thing done, you have to get it done.

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    1. Apparently, you don’t have an alternative app to push. ;-) – Tim

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    2. As you say: “it’s a simple reminder app”.
      The fact that it doesn’t actually remind you seems to be the main reason for the complaints.

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  9. I have been using the app for a few days and I think it hits its target pretty well. I completely get the approach they have taken and for mobile devices it’s very good. While I have not used it for long yet, the only interstice I could find was the iPhone’s touch doesn’t seem subtle enough to really a user fly around this kind of app.

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  10. Nikolay Klimchuk Monday, February 20, 2012

    Overhyped

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