Designing for Tight Spaces

The first time I saw the iPhone’s home screen interface (the Springboard), I wondered how Apple would handle the iPhone’s lack of real estate when they’d add new apps down the line. Now that people are hacking it to add their own test apps, the issue is more relevant today.

As you can see from that image above, filling every row with an icon looks quite bad.

Traditional options to solve the problem could be any one of the following:

1. Scrolling
2. Categorized tabs
3. Smaller icons
4. Buttons that represented categories instead of individual apps

My guess is that they’ll go with #4 if and when they start to include more apps.

Scrolling would destroy the simplicity of the home screen by removing all remaining “white space”, or in the iPhone’s case, “black space.”

Categorized tabs at the top or bottom would have to be quite large and therefore, unsightly. It would also battle the bottom row of primary app buttons for importance.

Smaller icons could become problematic if each icon’s associated text scaled down as well. The truth is, you shouldn’t need to have text with successful icons. I think removing the text would be a real option if every app’s icon was required to be visible on the home screen.

Buttons that represent categories could be the easy way out for the UI designers. They could simply create an “office” category to file the notes, calculator, stocks and clock icons. Now that I think about it, having a “Clock” icon on the main Springboard is quite odd and could easily be refiled in a button category system.

One thing that still surprises me is how YouTube’s icon is still not their logo. In an age where brand identity is so 101, does anyone at YouTube not understand the power of their own brand?

Going back to the smaller icons w/no text idea, I think YouTube would benefit from that because they could swap the old TV icon with their own logo.