“We can just port this from iOS to Android” If you are an Android engineer then chances are you have heard this phrase many times in the past few years. It may even be because of this phrase that you are here today. I am no exception to this quandary, numerous times in my career I have found myself responding to this question or others like it. The first time I heard this I became irritated because certainly any designer working in the mobile industry already knew everything about Android. I quickly realized that this wasn’t one person neglecting the beloved Android platform. The problem is a lack of day to day experience with the platform. From that day forward I decided I will not contribute to the growing divide between the Android organization and the rest of my company. That was the day I became an advocate for Android.
What an advocate isn’t
Many of you may cringe at the thought of calling yourself an Advocate. You’ll conjure up visions of linkedin profiles of people who have words like “ninja” or “guru” in their job title. Don’t worry I am not suggesting you update your profile and CV to reflect your new role. I am not even suggesting you go ask your boss to have your job title changed. What I am suggesting is to go above and beyond to make something truly amazing. Really this is only for the people who fall into one very specific category… people who give a damn about android UI and UX.
More important than any of this you don’t want to be the person that makes dividing lines between organizations. Many people in your company maybe be Apple users or have some very personal draw towards the Apple platform. It’s not your job to win them over to Android. It’s also not your job to shun those who don’t care to learn. We are quickly moving away from an iOS first or iOS only landscape but despite this there are still people who are going to think that Android is a second class citizen.
What does it mean to be an Advocate?
So what the hell is an advocate anyways? Great question! The dictionary definition says it is some who “publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”, I would suggest we modify that a bit to be more actionable, with all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I would say it be something like: “A person who supports a cause through education and continuous engagement.”
As an advocate we need to help bridge the gap between Android and the rest of our company. This may seem like a big task especially when you are in a larger organization however the more you educate the more experts you create in Android and now dissemination of information becomes much easier. To accomplish this we need to do a few things and make sure that they are ingrained in our company culture regarding android.
Don’t wait for others to start a discussion. Put together lunch meetings where you focus on talking through material design or just have an open ended discussion about design on Android in general. It’s important to test the waters and see what gets people in your company engaged in the discussion. Remember as you start to pull in more people of varying backgrounds there is more of a chance that people don’t understand what the hell you or someone else is talking about so encourage questions and dialogue. Education isn’t a one way street.
The Android platform gives us great domain specific language to speak with which helps us communicate with eachother. Educating people on this is a great natural place to start your education process. You will quickly find out what level of knowledge people possess in your company as well as help clear up any questions that they may have been too scared to ask. It’s been my experience that doing this not only helps others learn more about the platform but sometimes also help deepen or even unearth questions you have had and for whatever reason have never thought to ask out loud.
Part of what you are doing when you educate others is also creating future advocates. People who hopefully will go out after you are done talking and use this information to help others learn about Android. Your ultimate goal should be to take yourself or your team out of the equation as being the source of truth. Getting others to speak more frequently about this will hopefully go a long way to dispel the trend of always thinking iOS first and Android second.
Remember that talk is cheap and there are concepts that are hard to grasp without examples. So make sure you have plenty examples of what you are trying to discuss. You can do this through many ways: find apps in the play store that people can download and play with, draw things out on a whiteboard, my personal favorite is to create an app around what we are talking about. This takes extra time but acts as a way for you to refresh yourself on the topic as well as can give you a great starting point if you want to prototype new ideas.
So you got the education thing down but the problem now is engagment. Don’t think of your new found role as a one and done type of thing. Overtime hopefully others will help participate but we need to keep the ball moving so that we keep people talking about Android. Make yourself available for more one on one discussions. If you just held a meeting talking about RecyclerView it may be a good idea to keep some time after for chatting with people who may have follow up questions. Be proactive and reach out to the people who came to the talk on an individual basis. This communication is great to get feedback about the meeting as well as continues the discussion and keeps that person engaged in the Android discussion.
Google and Material design isn’t The Word
Don’t pontificate purely because Matais and the design team at Google has said so in the material design guidelines. The general goal of all apps is for the UX and UI to be so seamless that they disappear into the background. Don’t like FABs because they obscure UI and context, that’s fine not all apps need these things. One of the most important things I have ever heard about UI and UX design is to “get out of the way of the user” I can’t remember where I heard this but this couldn’t be any more true. Material design is a great place to get the common ground for UI and UX on Android but when you feel your app starts to be prohibitive and not inhibitive it’s completely ok to start thinking of how to reduce friction.
So there you have it, you now have some tools and hopefully the courage to go and advocate in your department, organization or company. Remember that advocacy does not make you better or relieve you of any of your development duties. This is above and beyond the call of duty to help educate and engage others to increase knowledge and awareness of Android and it's amazing UI and UX.