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Designing for the Vertical Screen
06/17

Ten years ago the iPhone was launched and it revolutionized how telephones were used. A cellphone accessible to everyone, with a multi-touch responsive vertical screen that changed the rules of the game. It wasn’t actually the first, but no one seems to remember the IBM Simon, from 1992, or the other phones that came after it. By unveiling the first intuitive multi-touch vertical screen, Steve Jobs seemed to have put a veil over our memory making the other devices of that time forgetable.

 

The social media platforms loved this new affordable device because it took them from the limited space of a room with a desktop computer in it, into the outside: in pubs, in coffeeshops, on bridges, in the forest, on the beach and on the top of the tallest skyscraper.

 

The beautiful, glazed screened smartphone took social media everywhere. The reason why is quite simple: people were already taking their mobile phones with them everywhere they went. And that was the genius of it - understanding human behaviour and hijacking it in a new and brilliant way.

 

 

 

Understanding human behaviour, as we discussed in this article, is one of the keys to success.

Today, people use their smartphones for purposes beyond what anyone could have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. Taking pictures, high-resolution photos, filming, watching movies, listening to music, all of these things have become sort of a standard pre-requisite of smartphones. We want smartphones with 64GB of memory space, with stable internet connection and speed in processing information and transactions. We use the small (well not so small in the past two years) square in our pockets to book airplane tickets, pay our uber ride and shop online. In just a decade the smartphone has become a part of us, of how we do things just as much as credit cards have. Even more so. Because a credit card doesn’t let us see our family in a live facebook video, but a smartphone with an internet connection can also act as a credit card.

After 10 years of constant browsing the internet with a smartphone, of sharing pictures on social media instantly, and watching youtube videos, people’s perspective on how content looks like has shifted. Slowly at first, one byte at a time. And now we get to the subject of this article.

 

Television was and still is landscape, yes. But even this is changing. Now people film whole movies in portrait mode, people take snaps, they boomerang and create live facebook sessions all filmed vertically. There’s even a vertical film festival, and the teaser of it looks great. Especially if you watch it on your smartphone.

 

Reality is that most of the content generated by users on social media platform comes in vertical form.

 

Even large productions as long feature films can come in portrait mode. What other perfect example could there be for a mobile themed article, than an emoji movie.

 

You might call all of these visual experiments. But there’s an entire industry that is designing with a vertical screen in mind: the gaming industry.

 

 

Games for mobile platforms are intentionally designed for vertical play: from candy crush to flappy bird or pokemon go, no game accidentally gets created on portrait mode. The same way we were used to watch videos on horizontal screens, we were used (and still are when it comes to consoles and personal computers) to play in landscape. But game developers understand that the medium in which you play is just as responsible for your gaming experience as the story of a game or its entertainment factor. Game developers understand, oh, so very well how people interact and engage with the device the game is played on. So when it comes to smartphones, it’s no wonder most of the games are both accessible and designed for the vertical screen.

 

It was challenging, it was something different to shift the visual perspective on a 90 degrees angle and to rethink how to fit the same elements on a narrow, albeit taller screens. But why? Why do people enjoy to watch a video or play a game on a vertical space?

 

 

Why do people watch and create vertical videos? Why don’t they use their smartphone more on horizontal?

It’s different. It’s new. It’s challenging. It puts things in a different perspective, generating creative ideas. It’s playful.

 

 

Why should you bother designing your app or device for the vertical screen?

This is the golden question. Because if you don’t find your answer to this question, your brand will miss out a lot on consumer interaction. We found three answers.

Firstly because in order to change behaviour you need to come up with something radically new and radically engaging - like the iphone. If not, it’s good to tap in the already established behaviourisms and simply build on those.

 

Secondly: people love to scroll. People love to go up and down. There are myths that say that all essential data should appear on the homepage, in the space of a landing page, because don’t scroll, they click away. It’s not quite so. And there are studies debunking these myths.

Just think how much time you spend scrolling down on facebook or instagram. It’s quite hard to unglue yourself from the newsfeed, isn’t it?

 

Thirdly… why waste screen space. If you’d be offered a building high billboard, you’d use all the available space to create an ad or to send your message. Now when it comes to mobile, why would you use only a third of the screen and make people zoom in on the content?

 

What are the advantages of designing apps, websites and digital experiences for vertical screens?

 

  1. Designing and creating vertical-dedicated content stands out. Except for app-focused companies, few brands make the effort of incorporating vertical screens in their video and digital communication, even though most of the content created today is viewed through the rectangular screen in our hands.

 

  1. Behaviour trumps anything else. As we discussed earlier in this article, creating a different kind of behaviour requires a lot of effort and a lot of financial power that not all brands can afford. But going with the flow isn’t always a bad thing if you personalize your approach and create mindful, customer focused content. When you make it easier for the users to enjoy your content you’re making it easier for them to engage with your brand. Repeatedly. Aren’t great friendships built on repeated quality interactions?

 

 

If you need help with creating apps and digital content based on consumer-focused insight let us know. We have quite a talented team of coders and designers that understand how trends shift and grow in this speed-infused digital age. You don’t have to believe us by our words, have a look at our portfolio.

 

Also, if you want just to be up to date with what we’re working on, or writing on our blog befriend us on twitter, facebook, or linkedin. We promise not to spam you.

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