Quick, which is better: Lucas or Spielberg? Star Wars or Star Trek? Kobe or LeBron? Internet Explorer or Chrome? You probably have an opinion on each of these questions that’s strongly held enough to make a choice in seconds. And there’s something undeniably fun and satisfying about making dopey this-or-that snap judgments. Designer Luke Wroblewski has built an entire app around this vacuous-yet-addictive experience called Polar. But before you write it off as the dumbest thing since Snapchat, know this: Polar is a work of mobile-design genius.
This should come as no surprise if you know Wroblewski’s pedigree. The man literally wrote the book on “mobile first” design thinking, which is now established wisdom for anyone seeking to create the next hot digital whatever. And yet after five years of iPhones and Androids, very few mobile experiences feel truly effective. And when one comes along that actually is–well, you saw how much that was worth to Mark Zuckerberg.
“Everyone’s still in the laptop mindset–even [companies] that really have their shit together,” Wroblewski tells Co.Design. “We’ve done testing about how people actually use their phones, and we said, ‘Let’s design the product entirely around that.'”
Wroblewski calls these native experiences “micro mobile interactions,” and you can see them in action in the demo video embedded at the top of this post. The key word is “micro”: a quick glance here, a flick or tap there, and done. The more of these interactions you can fit into your user experience, and the more seamlessly and delightfully you can serve them up, the more engagement you’ll build. Even if your app does nothing but ask whether kittens are cuter than babies.
Polar is Wroblewski’s object lesson in the power of micro mobile interactions. He’s literally taken an activity that is either pointless (seriously, kittens or babies?) or downright annoying (when was the last time you actually filled out a customer service questionnaire?) and transformed it into something that you want to do–and keep doing. When you’re standing in line, bored, and want to kill 10 seconds on your phone, what do you do? Fire up Instagram–or Polar, after you’ve tried it once. It’s that good.
“We chose to do a consumer thing, a fun thing, to put our ideas into action,” Wroblewski says. “So far we’ve gotten great results. People can get in, get out, and get value instantly. We’re starting to rethink polls. But once you understand this medium, you can start to rethink everything.” I agree. By the way, which is better: gestural UIs or buttons? Don’t worry, this’ll only take a second.