The Beauty of the Start Screen: Where Elegance, Rhythm and Sheer Usability meet—with a little space in-between.

Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement for Microsoft or Windows Phone, but it DOES offer some personal context on design through example.

I recently received a new Windows Phone—primarily for training purposes. I like it, amongst my love for photos and music, I also love the start screen on this device… it’s very customizable!

Last week I realized that I was feeling a little limited with the layout of these things they call “live tiles.” All these little square pieces of information (including apps) can create a fully customized start screen: it’s a lot of fun, and it’s “uniquely me” as they say.

Every single screen capture or video I have ever seen of someone using a Windows Phone and the start screen has generally equated to a full screen full of these tiles—at varying sizes.

I wasn’t happy with that.

Why did we need to fill the space so completely? Of course we all have the right to do whatever we want with our personal smartphone. Tat said, remember I am a designer.

What if I truly treated the start screen like my own personal space—and a layout I designed? What would it look like? Would it have rhythm and flow? Would it use negative space—would a “less is more” approach truly be what such a personal device could become?

Everything I subscribe to and preach when it comes to design has to do with creating a unified message and developing an experience that will let the audience engage with the object or layout.

This was no different.

My start screen needed to have rhythm, flow, negative space and emphasis. I didn’t want everything to have equal value, and I wasn’t happy with simply changing the size of the tiles to accomplish my goal.

I took on the challenge of the screen as not only a place for my stuff, but also an experience. I moved tiles around, and positioned them so that they were easy to tap—regardless of size.

I started with symmetry—the ultimate death of a layout, and then built in balance and negative space. I also put items I accessed more often towards the top of the screen, so I didn’t need to scroll for them. That’s right, I was prioritizing the content.

The most engaging this about this layout is I can change it whenever I want, but that’s not the point. The point is that I would argue that my experience has been changed forever by the layout and position of elements, what I have chosen to emphasize—and the space in-between.

The negative space builds some elegance into the design.

Now, I am not saying something like this is for everyone’s phone, but the concept is more the point. You can’t really know until you hold my phone and give it a whirl—so you’ll have to trust me, but know that layout is not always about what you include, it’s about the space in-between, and how the small tile of my wife’s profile draw’s attention in subtle ways, based on it’s small size, the negative space around it, and it’s position in the upper right corner.

When you create a “one-pager,” a “visual story” or an infographic, be thoughtful about your use of space. It not only important to consider what you include in your design, but how your audience will experience it.

I would argue that my experience with a Windows Phone has forever been changed.

Leave your own mark, and leave a little empty space around it once in a while.

The images below represent before and after, with the first image with gold tiles being the first layout. The remaining ones represent the “full scroll” from top to bottom with the new design. You can click to zoom in if desired. Cheers!

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