[In-depth interview] The story behind Flyme Interaction Team Leader

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2016-06-21 11:27

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Yi Peng, who joined MEIZU in 2007, is now the Manager of Flyme Interaction Team. As one of the most senior MEIZU staff in Flyme team, Yi Peng is also one of the few staff who knows everything about M8 system design because it was him who designed almost every interaction in M8. Compared to the rest of his colleagues, he has a deeper affection towards this company.

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In 1998, Yi Peng went to college to study Graphic Design in Art & Design Dept., Hubei University of Technology. During his college years, he has been designing medals and guns, which was probably what inspired him so much in UI designs in the incoming years.

After he graduated from the college, Yi Peng went to Guangzhou, a city where advertising industry was prosperous and promising. He wanted to enter a famous 4A advertising company and become a famous designer. However, after 2 months of job hunting, he got nothing.

I have to be realistic. Now that I’ve already graduated, I cannot ask my parents to financially support me anymore. I have to learn how to stand on my own.

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But without working experience and project experience, it is impossible to get into a famous 4A company. The wish to prove his capability started to fade away.

After realising the critical reality, Yi Peng went to a piratic CD manufacturing company. But only after 3 days since his joining, he left because he cannot stand the boss’s scold on his pursuit for perfection. And again, he went back to job hunting.

Under the pressure of life, he had no choice but gave up the dream to enter a design company. Like many other classmates, Yi Peng entered a clothing company to be a package designer.

“I want to do designing work, but I felt like I had no place to go. I was always looking for a designer job in an industry which is more suitable for me. In that 2 months in the clothing company, I kept looking for other opportunities.”

In the July of that year, he got an interview from a 4A advertising company. But after 2 rounds of tests and interviews, he was washed out because the company thought his efficiency is too low.

This was not a result he was ready for. On that day. he wrote a long mail to the director of this company: “I know I have little experience, but I love designing, and I want to be an ad designer. I believe I can bring the best ad!“

This passionate mail touched the director, and thus, this mail brought Yi Peng a brand new start.

After entering the company, he devoted himself to work.

"I am young. I need to keep learning." With this thought, Yi Peng worked at this advertising company for 2 years. By then he gradually realized that his work has deviated from his original intention. He felt like he was caged in a box, and his designing thoughts were limited.

"You don’t get to THINK too much when you work in an ad company. What really matters is client’s need, and their definition on beautiful designs. I had to cater myself to please them, and I was afraid that I might lost in all kinds of design principle and styles."

in 2004, Yi Peng decided to give up this job, and went to Shenzhen, trying to find a job in which he can do real design. But surprisingly, he got an offer from Creative Technology, a high-tech company from Singapore.

Being a digital fan, Yi Peng was curious about this industry, and wanted to see if this field was suitable for him. Therefore, he joined Creative as a designer. During his years in Creative, he designed posters and packages for the company’s products, which were appreciated by Creative HQ and invited him to work in HQ in Singapore for 6 months.

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(Poster designed by Yi Peng when worked in Creative)

In 2007, Creative Shenzhen branch was merging with Shanghai Branch. As Yi Peng had already gotten used to Shenzhen’s weather, he had no intention to go to Shanghai. And just then, Bai Yongxiang, who is now CEO of MEIZU Technology, found him.

“Bai read my online resume and contacted me. At that time, M8 was undergoing critical development stage. He talked about MEIZU’s vision in the smart phone industry. And after seeing M6 player, I sensed that MEIZU has great potential, and I could be a part of this potential.”

MEIZU back then was eager to get more talents. Bad drove him to visit the newly-built HQ building. At that time, the building was still quite empty, but Yi Peng felt a long-lost freedom — this was an open platform that he wanted. He wanted to join and make a big difference.

Just like that, in July, 2007, Yi Peng left Shenzhen and arrived Zhuhai with his dream for designing. He devoted himself to the design of M8. And since then, he’s been contributing to this beloved company for 10 years.

Q: What was the biggest difficulty in M8 developing in 2008?
Y: Under-staffed. Back then, the whole R&D had only less than 30 people. Even colleagues from Marketing were participating in the development. I remembered the HQ building were built for not long, so the whole building is nearly empty, but the 5th floor where R&D was located, the light never went out because we worked day and night.
M8.png
(The capsule-shaped Home button was applied on M8 --- the first MEIZU product in 2009)

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Q: So what do you think is the difference between interaction design and interface design?
Y: Interaction design is mainly focused on the usability of a feature, which means we have to design a way by which users can easily achieve his goal; interface design put more emphasis on the aesthetics of the page in the premises of usability. However, I always say that interaction designer should know how to design the feature, and interface design should have a clear concept of operation and structure. These two tasks cannot be separated completely.

Take building a house as an example. When we decide to build a house, it is the product manager’s job to define the purpose of this house. And interactive designer will build the structure of the house: how many floors, which direction should it face, where do we place stairs and pipes, etc. And interface designer will have to decide the appearances of the house, the inner decoration style, color, etc.

Of course in a product’s cycle, developer and tester are also very important. Developer is the one to actually build the house, and tester will examine the house to see if the quality reaches the standard. All these roles are dependent and need to work closely to deliver a product.

Q: What’s your opinion on SmartBar and mBack?
Y: Both SmartBar and mBack is a combination of software and hardware.
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Years ago, the mainstream Android smart phones adopted the three-key design: ’Return’, ‘Home key’ and ‘Menu (multi-tasking)’. This design is neither beautiful, nor easy to be used. So we kept looking for a better solution.

Ever since MX, MEIZU phones had only 1 virtual Home key. Therefore since Flyme 2, we integrated operation bar and virtual navigation bar, and created SmartBar, which we used from Flyme 2 to Flyme 4. The combination of SmartBar and the virtual Home key solved the returning problem in users’s daily usage: tap virtual Return icon on SmartBar to return to previous page, and tap Home key to return to Home screen.

smartbar apps.001.jpeg

In our design, we overrated Android apps market. Ideally, all apps which conform with Android 4.0 can automatically adapt to SmartBar. Back then we were very convinced that this design will be huge. However, the reality that Android apps in that time were not so standard, which means a lot of apps are incompatible with Android 4.0 developing guidelines. This led to the unpleasant user experience of SmartBar. This is why SmartBar was both a success and a failure for us. Our intention was good, yet back then MEIZU is still a small brand. Few app developing company would waste their time and energy to make changes just to make their apps compatible with MEIZU devices. Even Google promoted virtual keys for years before this design finally got accepted by users. This incompatibility impacted our users greatly, thus even though SmartBar is a good design, it still failed.

mBack was also inspired by hardware. In 2014, we introduced fingerprint scanner to our new product, and the previous way for users to return was obviously not suitable for this new product. The sensor on the the Home key inspired us — we wanted to use this sensor to achieve more practical feature. We decided to try this advanced design in this product.

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That product was MX4 Pro, the world’s first Android phone with front-press fingerprint scanner. Thanks to the sensor on its Home key, this physical key can be pressed as well as tapped. It was only natural that we add ‘Tap to return to previous page’ to MX4 Pro. We needed a little time to prove that this design is feasible, so we didn’t make it enabled by default, but rather, made it an option in Accessibility in system settings.

Half year later, most MX4 Pro users became very used to this function, so we made a big decision — we put this interactive design on MX5, and named it mBack — a design that can achieve return easily, and integrated fingerprint scanner at the same time.

Before mBack, our navigation and operation menu can only be placed on the screen bottom, which sometimes created inconvenience for users. And now with this mBack Home key, we make the return operation more easily and elegantly. Because this is achieved by the sensor (hardware), it perfectly goes with every app. Also without SmartBar, the screen is now totally dedicated to all kinds of features. So mBack is a good design in multiple aspects.

Today, a lot of MEIZU users tell us that when they experience iOS shortly, they found themselves tapping the Home key trying to return to the previous page. For them, it has become a very natural move. This shows that mBack is easy to use, and also easily get people feel used to it.

Q: Why has Flyme 5 changed so much from Flyme 4?
Y:  Before 5.0, Flyme has always been known as exquisite but known by few people. But when we started Flyme 5, we realized  that we’ve built a relatively big user foundation, and being exquisite and excluded cannot help us grow. We had to cut the learning curve for our users. So our priority switched to make this system more friendly, easier and more intuitive.

To achieve this, we had to break some traditions. In the past, we stuck to certain designs such as side bar in Settings and Documents, ultra-simplified icons, and light color selections. But according to our survey on our users, we realized there were solutions that suited us better.

For example, in Flyme 4, we use a side bar design in the Settings. For advanced users, it was a good design because it took full advantage of the big screen. But this efficient design made a lot of new users confused because he wouldn’t know each icon’s meaning. If we were going to adopt this design only for those advanced users, then we would lose a great deal of new users.

smart bar collage.jpg

So we changed the Settings into a traditional layout, which is clear and enables users to find what they are looking for instantly. In this way, users can find the needed options without activating the rest of the Settings as in Flyme 4 a user had to activate all side columns to see the one he was looking for.

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Another big change is that we used top-down guiding structure.

With mBack, we have more choices when we design our screen layout. In Flyme 5, we adopted top-down guiding structure so users’ sight will not be wandering from up and down. We also canceled category icons in Flyme 5. By using category words, the structure became clearer, and easier to use.

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This kind of changes in Flyme 5 is everywhere. The purpose of these changes was to reduce users’ learning curve so even a new users can pickup our system pretty easily. And so far, the users’ feedback told us that Flyme 5 is more intuitive and user-friendly than all of its predecessors.

Q: Can you tell us something about Flyme Interactive Design Team?
Y:Currently our team has 26 members, 20 of them are user interaction designer, and 6 of them are animation designer. All interactions and animation effect in Flyme are designed and finished by us, as well as videos used on launch events and major promoting events.

We are a group of creative and adventurous designers. Some of us majored in Industry Design in college and have deep understandings on ergonomics and user psychology. Some other majors are Computer Science, Digital Media, Graphic Design, etc. Even though Interaction Designer is not the one who designs the final interface, a good artistic taste is necessary. So basically every member in this team has artistic attainment.

In our team, you would find a lot of young people, and recently the interns we interviewed are all from post-95 generation. For designers in an Internet company, ‘experience’ is not much a very flattery word. I appreciate young designers’ vitality and learning capacity. Their upbeat energy has brought a lot of inspiring ideas to our team. Therefore we really look forward to more young people to join our team.

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Q: Flyme 5 has already received good reviews among users. What is the direction for Flyme 6?
Y: We want to build a system that understands you better.
For example, when you go traveling, you would arrange your schedule, book flight and hotels, etc. We hope that Flyme can help you make all that arrangements, so you can feel that your cellphone helps you everywhere in your life.

This is just an example. I cannot give you more specific information, but we’ll absolutely innovate on multiple dimensions so Flyme can brings more emotions, interests, personalities and feelings to users. This requires us to add more customised and intelligent features. We want this system to be truly  designed from the perspectives of users.

Q: What is your perspectives towards the occupation ‘Designer’?
Y: To me, designer is a very sacred occupation especially an interaction designer. When you innovate a brand new way to operate your phone, and millions of users like your innovation. This is an achievement that words can hardly describe.

A designer should realise that he has a responsibility. As I constantly said to my team members, we are not just doing it for a living, we are doing this for millions of users. When your work are used by that many users, you should be responsible for your design. It is of vital importance that we keep passionate about our job, or we would easily forget our responsibility.

When I firstly took on the job as an interaction designer, ‘Interaction’ is not even a major in college. Most interaction designer were transferred from other industries. But now, as Internet going into everyone’s life and becoming a major part in cars, electronic appliances and digital products, etc., interaction designer as an occupation is getting more attention. I think it’s a promising career for many talented designers.

Recently I’ve read an article about 20 occupations which will be replaced by artificial intelligence. I think a lot of people would want to know if designer will be replaced. As for me, I think AI itself is a super Internet product which need to be designed. Therefore the value of a designer will never disappear. Another promising trend is that now a growing number of companies realized the value of good design and are willing to spend more money and energy to hunt for good designers and agencies.

So, as a designer or designer-to-be, instead of worrying you might be out of work in 10 or 20 years, continuously improve your own skills and creativity is the most crucial thing to do.

Q: You’ve been here in MEIZU for almost 10 years, can you share us some thoughts about this job?
Y: I’m not a very outgoing person, so in all these years, I’ve been shying away from unnecessary communications except work. I was like MEIZU in earlier years, very secluded, aloof and prefer being alone.

In recent two years, MEIZU is known and welcomed by lots of users, and its value has changed greatly for we are going closer to our users. Last year I went to Beijing for a discussion with our users, I realized that when you are closer to the users or even make friends with them, you’ll be inspired and find a lot of different ideas.

All these years I’ve been telling my team that we should not be afraid of making mistakes. If we were afraid, the we would use the three virtual key design which was adopted by almost every Android device. Then none of the beloved virtual Home key and mBack would exist.

To design and develop a system, we should appreciate mistakes. Mistake is just progress, not the end of our journey.

Also I work with a lot of young people, I see sparkles on them which inspired me a lot. I think to learning from them is not only beneficial to me, it’s good to our whole team.

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This year marks the 20th year of Yi Peng’s career as a designer. Although he has worked in MEIZU for almost 10 years, he said again that ‘experience’ is not always a good thing for a designer.

He is the one who has been there for Flyme from the very beginning. From the drastic changes made on WINCE, to innovate continuously in Android, Yi Peng spares every effort to make Flyme better.

After work, Yi Peng enjoys his family time by making dinner for his family. Before this interview goes to the end, he recommended a book which he has been reading recently: The Family Meal, by legendary chef Ferran Adrià.
"I like learning new things in new fields. For example, cooking can temper your mind. When I cut the food, I’ll sort all the ingredients and divide them by colors. Also during the cutting, I’ll try my best to control the slices length, thickness and shape as accurately as possible. This is an enjoyable process, and I love it."

The Family Meal.jpg

This explains perfectly about Flyme’s unique quality — it is designed and built by a group of people, who, just as Yi Peng, project their passion and inspiration on their beloved Flyme.

Flyme, is their big family meal.

   [This article was originally written by Chage and released by BiggerTech in Zhihu column.