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The QWERTY keyboard isn't the optimal solution for smartphones. Time and effort are required to type and send messages. Symbolo is a messaging service built on iOS that replaces the keyboard with symbols.

 
 
 

THE MAIN GOAL IS TO OFFER A FASTER WAY TO COMMUNICATE.

 
 

In the beginning, the focus was on studying the communication behavior of smartphone users. We researched the topics discussed over text messages, how many exchanges happen during an average session and why do users prefer to use different messaging services in different situations? An abundance of communication behavior research and chat history of friends were helpful resources.

 
 
 

By setting up two filters, all team members agreed to it was less painful to reject various suggestions for features. The filters used were:

Product Filter: Only suggestions that make communication faster are considered.

Team Filter: Considered are only those features that the team can develop.

 
 
 

We used the Kano model to visualize the feature set.

Step 1: Organizing features into each of the category based on own research and point of view.

Step 2: During the testing sessions with users, we observed the participants. The received feedback was a source to validate or dismiss each feature in the model.

Step 3: The features in the Kano model were confirmed (green) or ditched. We did stick with some of them despite the feedback.

 
 
 

Communication over messaging services can be divided into:

Unpredictable: Topics discussed mostly by teens and students. After the age of 25, these kinds of conversations are less frequent.

Predictable: The majority of all conversations via messaging services. It’s about planning meet-ups, status updates, location updates, to-dos and similar predictable messages.

Symbolo is replacing predictable messages.

 
 
 

PREDICTABLE CONVERSATIONS OPEN UP AN OPPORTUNITY TO REPLACE THE KEYBOARD WITH SYMBOLS.

 
 
 

Symbols are predefined or personalized to specific needs of the sender and the recipient. Predefined symbols cover the most common topics users communicate on messaging services.

 
 
 

We had to decide whether to use symbols that are familiar to users or to use symbols that are app specific. The app-specific symbols were represented in simpler shapes. By making the shapes simple, we tried to encourage users to draw the symbol on the screen and then send it to the recipient. That eliminates the need to search for a specific symbol among all the options.

 
 

Two versions with a set of 4 different symbols were tested, and the app specific symbols with simpler shapes performed poorly with the users. Since the UI is different compared to other messaging apps, using recognizable symbols lowers the barrier to start using Symbolo in the first place.

 
 
 

Incognito symbol has no recognizable shape. It’s for sending a message only the sender, and the receiver understand.

 

DIFFERENT UI LAYOUTS WERE TESTED. THE FOLLOWING DESCRIBES THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ALTERNATIVE THAT MADE IT TO THE FINAL VERSION.

 
 

On the top are the contacts. The user can scroll horizontally to move between them. For each contact image and name are used. Symbols are placed at the bottom. The user selects the receiver and swipes up the symbol.

Placing the contacts on top makes it faster to change between them. It also allows showing received messages from multiple senders at the same time.

 
 
 

First tests with a prototype revealed two issues. At first visit, it wasn’t apparent that the contact needed to be selected to send the message. The second problem was that the visual design of the symbols didn’t afford the users to send a message by swiping up the selected symbol.

 
 
 

Contacts were visually separated to make them look tappable. Strokes were added to all interactive UI elements. We started to use rounded symbols in all mockups.

Testing confirmed the usability improvements, but the visuals didn’t fit well. The strokes added visual clutter. The symbols itself and also the contact names didn’t stand out due to the strokes.

 
 
 

The names of contacts have a higher visual priority than surnames. Elements that are placed on top of a dark background are interactive. The strokes have been removed allowing for the content to stand out.

 
 

MAKING COMMUNICATION FASTER REQUIRES CHANGES IN OTHER AREAS NOT JUST REMOVING THE KEYBOARD.

 
 

The picker allows the user to customize the value of a symbol. For example, selecting a meetup location. The user can launch the selector directly with the symbol. No other UI elements needed.

 
 
 

Symbols are placed at the bottom, making them easier to reach. The margins on each side of the screen reduce the need to move the thumb too hard inwards when trying to send the closest symbol to the thumb.

Contacts are automatically selected based on the context. That means the user, for most of the time, doesn’t have to choose a contact before sending out a message.

 
 
 

Based on the received symbol, the most likely responses are available. The user can respond faster and save time.

 
 
 
 
 

Finally, you can enjoy a beautiful wallpaper on your iPhone. A selection of wallpapers is available for the users to customize the experience. Investing time by customizing the appearance, offers opportunities to form a bond between the product and the user.