A lot of people were made a bit uncomfortable when they saw the new Windows Phone 7 start screen and it’s long area of blank space on the right side. What’s with the wasted space? The offset grid and negative space are clearly by design. The key phrase there is “by design.” This isn’t your average boring grid of program icons that every other smartphone employs in their user interface designs. The layout actually follows many design conventions that artists, mathematicians, and scientists have developed over centuries.
The Rule of Thirds
Anyone who’s ever taken a photography class knows about the rule of thirds. If you draw grid lines at both one-third increments between the horizontal and vertical lengths of the frame, the intersections of those lines are where you want to place your subject. The idea is that placing your subject in the center of the frame makes the composition too symmetric and thus bland and uninteresting. Having the subject off-center gives you room for your eye to wander with curiosity. The negative space of an off-center composition actually brings balance to the image while also adding interest and excitement.
The Windows Phone 7 start page design does not adhere to a straight-symmetric grid of equal-weight icons like most other smartphone platforms do. The off-center grid puts importance on the Live Tiles, while the negative space on the right balances the composition.
The classical composition technique of divine proportions is a little more complex than the rule of thirds. Throughout history, divine proportions have been used to evoke emotion or aesthetic feelings within humans. The concept is often also referred to as the Golden Mean, the Magic Ratio, the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci Series, etc. It’s even extremely prominent in nature. You’ll see divine proportions in galaxy formations, seashells, growth patterns of plants, the breeding of rabbits, and plenty of other places.
Artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci take into account the divine proportions all the time. Your designs don’t have to follow the proportions exactly, but using them as guides is sure to increase the aesthetics.
When we overlay a divine proportions spiral with the Windows Phone 7 start screen, you’ll see the spiral clearly flows through the negative space surrounding the top and right areas, and then focuses in on the top left tile. That’s where your eye is going to go and that’s where you should arrange your most important Live tile.
The off-center design even has some functional advantages. Like many people, I normally hold my phone in my left hand leaving my right hand to touch the screen or carry bags or do something else. While holding a Windows Phone 7 device in your left hand, the live tiles are closer to that side. This makes it easier to one-handedly flick through the list and get to the information that you want.
Then when you’re in the tile-arrangement mode, there needs to be a way to cancel the mode and get back to the normal start screen. Tapping the empty area on the right is a good way to do that. Lastly, of course, there needs to be some room for that little arrow that shows the user that if they press there or swipe that way they’ll get more stuff
namely the programs listing.