Consumer expectations vs device constraints: the struggle is real

Consumers want devices with a luxurious look and feel, but budget and software constraints for wearables and other low-end devices have been a struggle for manufacturers and UI designers—until now.

Whether you’re a hardware engineer, user-interface designer, product manager, or none of the above, chances are, you know consumers now demand a sleek and satisfying iPhone-like experience from even their most basic devices. If you fall short on delivering that experience, users notice and the product’s market acceptance suffers. So, can you give the consumer what she wants when the budget is low, the hardware constraints are high, and the expectations are higher? (No pressure or anything.)

Expectations in a connected world

We are now in the midst of an Internet of Things revolution. Everything is connected. Smaller screens are showing up everywhere: on wearables, medical devices, automotive displays and even washing machines. But many of these devices must be designed and manufactured under far greater limitations than, say, a smartphone.

Most consumers don’t care about these constraints, or at least they don't understand them. When sending personal communications, accessing their homes or cars, and even monitoring their health stats, consumers expect a uniform, high-end experience on every device no matter how little they paid for it. Blame it on the exploding smartphone demographic.

Delivering a sexy user experience means everything in the mobile and connected market and jagged or cramped type turns people off. The consumer expects high-quality, full-color text and dynamic type in different sizes. Companies that understand this can more easily cultivate brand trust and product loyalty. 

The constraints UI designers face

Manufacturers and developers want to give consumers what they want, but the inherent design challenge is how to create a compelling user experience on a device that may measure only a few square inches. This challenge grows all the more real with lower-end devices, where smaller budgets and memory limits present additional hurdles. 

Today’s devices must be ready to take on a wider range of unpredictable text and font sizes (including translations) without exceeding text regions or clipping text when it doesn’t fit into the pre-defined area. This has made it much harder and more resource-intensive to pre-configure a sufficient range of bitmaps for all situations.

To make matters more complex, the companies behind these user interfaces often want solutions that are workable across entire product families and across global markets. This allows them to leverage their investments in font technologies for both current and future product offerings without their teams having to recreate everything from scratch for each new product.

The bottom line is manufacturers and UI designers are operating in a very unforgiving world, and are being asked to do more with less. 

Step away from the Bitmap

Manufacturers have been settling for a bitmap approach to displaying text and images on these devices. Bitmap comes by its name literally—it’s a map of bits—and it tends to yield less elegant designs. Bitmap displays can no longer meet the consumer’s evolving expectations or the designer’s evolving challenges.

As a type foundry that has been nurturing a more than century-long obsession with handsome and legible type, we wanted to give consumers and companies something better. Plus, we just couldn’t stand by any longer and watch bitmaps make a mess of the craft.

The only solution to this dilemma was to remove the creative constraints imposed by the conventional bitmap approach and to move forward with scalable font technologies that enable designers to implement elegant, instantly readable, and globally supported user experiences on any device.

Sparking a solution for low-end devices

Meet the Monotype Spark solution, software that allows scalable text to be used in situations where it was previously not possible due to memory restrictions or complexity.

Here are three things we heard designers and engineers needed from type 

  1. Anti-aliased character shapes that eliminate the dreaded jaggies
  2. Several font sizes that allow UI designers to establish a hierarchy of text regions
  3. Language support that opens global market opportunities

Spark allows in-house development teams to create luxury user interfaces that can scale across low to high-end devices, and has been created specifically to ease the designer’s transition from bitmaps. It meets the consumer’s emerging and increasingly sophisticated requirements for high-end interfaces on all devices, and it provides a cost-effective path for device-makers to add new capabilities and new products, helping to ensure the sustainability of product families.