The most special thing about cards that nobody is talking about

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Liz Gannes wrote an article this morning entitled “For Mobile Apps Like Tinder, Cards and Swipes Rule the Day” that did a nice job articulating some of the design advantages to using cards as the atomic unit of interaction inside native apps…she interviewed folks from Tinder, Swell, etc…and talked about how the unit and native actions around it (like swiping) are ideal for mobile experience. Things get a little muddled in my mind when the folks interviewed suggest that cards are not meant to be consumed in a vertical or scroll feed…i think there are a lot of interaction models on top of the core unit that work…but she sums up the trend of cards as follows: “The gist of all these posts is that the metaphor of a card is great for delivering well-formatted information that’s readable at a glance.”

Through this lens, cards appear to be the building blocks, or core atomic units, of well designed native apps…much in the same way that webpages are the core atomic unit of websites…ok, so cards are the native building block…cool, but I think it’s really important to distinguish between what I call “1st party card interfaces” and “3rd party card interfaces.” 1st party card interfaces in my mind are native applications like Swell and Tinder, that choose to display structured data from their own API or service in this contemporary design paradigm. The benefit or the leverage over more page based concepts lies in the brevity and conciseness of experience, in it’s physics and relation to native controls, and in the flexibility of interaction models you can build on top of many smaller pieces of data or experience, as opposed to fewer larger pieces…think of contextual surfacing of cards as an example of the last one…dropping a user into a finer pinpointed piece of data as opposed to the the same correct data surrounded by more irrelevent data (due to the larger “unit size” of a page for example)…the pinpoint makes for a better recommendation and discovery experience…

So yea, for “1st party card interfaces”, there are a lot of advantages to displaying your data and experience in this atomic unit…” but the impact of a card is not felt as deeply in 1st party as it is in 3rd party interfaces. A 3rd party card interface, to me, is a native application that displays data or experience in card format, but where the data is served not from an internal API, but rather from a 3rd parties API or markup. Examples of 3rd party card interfaces would be Twitter, Wildcard, Google Now (sometimes), Pinterest, and even Facebook although I don’t think they call them cards. In the “pre-card” era, when a native application wanted to display data or experience from a 3rd party, they would need to open a webpage or a webview to do so…in essence they would have to kick there user our of the native experience, and fall back on a legacy technology that, while effective in the desktop era…is quite inferior on mobile. In the desktop web, the cost to an application or website of linking out to a 3rd party was quite low…tabbed browsing, back button, consistent fast page loading, fluid movement and navigation between pages…or more generally…the interaction models on top of the core unit of webpage (or webpage represented as a link )…made webpage an acceptable atomic unit to move between 1st and 3rd party data and experience…

Today, as the era of card emerges, I think it’s important to recognize that there is a unique advantage to cards in 3rd party card interfaces not oft mentioned when discussing the trend through a 1st party lens…which is that they are able to deliver 3rd party information with the same performance and speed as they are information coming from their own API. So beyond the consistency of user experience….beyond the ease of fitting a 3rd party data and experience directly into the 1st party design paradigm…3rd party card interfaces are using a different data and rendering model that makes linking to or relying upon the information and experience of 3rd party publishers, merchants, or brands with an online experience, much less expensive. This is a massive evolution, and a piece of UX that was lost in the migration from web to native…

Summarized…cards are cool in 1st party card interfaces, but even cooler when thought of in the context of connective tissue at both the data and application layer between mobile experiences…much more powerful alternative to this deep linking bullshit that everyone is hocking…deep linking is cool for engagement and reengagement…but a whack solve for discovery.


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    I’m a NYC based entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com

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