While both UI and the content are equally important in an app, bad content will always poison the screen, even if the UI is fantastic. Lets look at two examples that have really nice UI and yet still rely on great content to look good.
Take Medium for example. Clean white space with the focus on writing and everything that comes with it. Large hi resolution images, usually organic that just look right juxtaposed on the screen. The gestalt principles in the layout give the user the opportunity to add anything they like and it will still look good. Right?
Strip away the beautiful images and the sense of place disappears as well. A perfect example of where this can be seen is the new app, Paper by Facebook.
Here the issue is the very nature of Facebook its self. We can post anything, and we like to post often. And unless all of your friends are professional iPhoneographers, it’s likely that there will be some really ugly content appearing in that top photo box. The app does do something to add a little engagement to the photos. The generic filter and overlaid UI does a lot, but it really only goes so far.
Luckily most of us who use Paper by Facebook are pretty damn good at taking pictures on our phones, relatively speaking. So most of the time, this app and Medium look fantastic. But every once in a while, there is a blurry photo or a horrible composition. Strip away the great content and you’re not left with much. (photo above) I’m guilty of it, we all are. It’s inevitable that when you post as often as we do on Facebook that the value and aesthetics of the content decreases. Sometimes this can be hidden by applying large amounts of chrome and filters to our photos but then it’s not really about the content. The notions made by our photos are predetermined by a theme within the app.
A good app doesn’t have just one theme but has an evolving theme directly effected by the input it’s users provide, in this case the content. This is something I don’t think we can change given our current platform, the smartphone. Thinking otherwise would be giving too much credit to the power of tapping a glass screen with our thumbs. What the smartphone does most importantly in design is give us a sandbox to test and refine UX and UI principles on a very large audience. We can learn a lot about how people upload content and how to give the least thoughtful content the most value. The best apps we have are seen through beautiful layout and UI. The challenge now is getting the app to encourage quality versus quantity in content from all of it’s users.