The Latest HTC User Experience: Sense 5 and the HTC One

When the HTC One was announced in the spring of 2013, early reviewers gushed over the beautiful new hardware, in particular the aluminum design. Once they began using it, though, they turned their attention to the software, calling the HTC Sense 5 experience “innovative” and “refreshing”.

Learning from the Past

Easily the most significant evolution of HTC Sense since the original version debuted on the HTC Hero, Sense 5 rethinks almost the entire experience from the ground up. At the core, Sense is still about making it easy for people to access the people, news and content they care about.

HTC Sense 5

“There was really an appetite for doing something different, something new with Sense 5,” explained Drew Bamford, HTC’s head of User Experience.

Scheduled for release on the HTC One, Sense 5 was an opportunity to incorporate the lessons of past versions, stay relevant to current users, and also redefine the smartphone experience for the future. Instead of minor improvements, the Sense design team began sketching out radical new ideas. In only a few months they went through dozens of iterations.

The centerpiece of Sense 5 is HTC BlinkFeed, which re-imagines the home screen into a constantly updating stream of your favorite content, from the latest news to updates from your friends. (Read more about the creation of HTC BlinkFeed.)

A New Sense of Style

More subtly but almost as importantly, the visual style of Sense 5 was a dramatic change from previous versions.

Our goal was to create a unique modern aesthetic for Sense 5, but one that is also very human,” said Dave Brinda, HTC’s Executive Creative Director.

HTC designers had watched in recent years as part of the industry embraced a cold minimalism while others focused on a very skeuomorphic approach — one that replicates physical appearances in a digital interface, such as adding paper textures to a note-taking application. They saw a middle path, that reflected the clean nature of digital interfaces while being unique and inviting.

HTC Sense 5 Sketch

The Sense team drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources, particularly Swiss style from the 1950s that emphasized clean lines and readability, as well as editorial design, architecture, industrial design, and beyond.

While the worlds of printed magazines and digital smartphone interfaces may seem far apart, it turns out they are more similar than might be expected. Jesse Penico, a member of the Sense design team, has a unique perspective on the similarities. After starting his career designing magazines, Penico came to HTC as it was evolving the Sense user experience. He quickly began learning the intricacies of designing for smartphones.

Penico drew on his print experience for Sense 5. “Magazine design is actually very similar to UX (user experience) design. You use typography and other visual hierarchy to guide a user through an interface in both cases,” Penico said. A main objective for the new Sense was to embrace a modern aesthetic, to be achieved partly by removing superfluous visual treatments such as gradients and detailed illustrations.

Looking forward, Preserving traditions

In most cases, simplifying the design was straightforward, except for one important feature: the HTC weather clock. Long the “face” of an HTC device, the weather clock is an iconic piece of the company’s history. There was much internal discussion about how to treat the weather clock in Sense 5, with some arguing that it should be kept largely unchanged from Sense 4.

In the end, it was decided to revamp it in line with the rest of the interface, preserving a holistic experience across the entire experience. Penico designed all-new weather icons, each with their own unique flavor (including a few, such as a whirling tornado, that hopefully no one ever sees).

HTC One X and HTC One

Yet the new design contains a nod to the past. If you watch the clock closely, you’ll see that the stylized numbers still “flip”, just as in the original clock from the earliest versions of HTC Sense. Sense 5 may look quite different from past versions, but, as Brinda notes, “it still echoes with those moments of delight, those elements that bring a bit of life to something that would otherwise be quite static”.

HTC’s designers are now hard at work on the next update to HTC Sense. Once again they are pushing forward the mobile industry while preserving the unique experience that has set HTC apart for years.

  • http://disqus.com/JHancock8/ JHancock

    Amazing article no idea of the inspiration from swiss in the 1950’s.

  • Anush Agarwal

    when will the update of htc sense 5 & the latest version of android will roll out for HTC ONE X…?

  • Gary

    I have a one x and have sense 5 on it now. I have had it for a few weeks and it’s brilliant. Much cleaner than sense4. I like the clean lines of the images. It looks much more modern than the previous interface. For all intents and purposes the phone now looks and feels like the one. A friend of mine has the one x also but hasn’t had the sense 5 download come through. It seems that only some phones are getting it??? Regardless of this if you can get it I highly recommend it.

  • Harold Goldner

    Have always had a soft spot for Sense, and even after trying AOSP and AOKP ROMs on my HTC phones, have drifted back to Sense. Interestingly, it appears the Sense 5 approach is very similar in some respects to aspects of Jelly Bean 4.3. Deskclock looks an awful lot like Blinkfeed, although it’s certainly not as easy to configure and doesn’t work quite the same way.

    Good to see clean, uncluttered lines on the phone. Bottom line is that if it can’t be used effectively and quickly as a tool, it’s not really a “smart” phone. This is one of those things HTC does better than most.


    Sense 5 is amazing. Looking forward to Sense 5.5.

  • YevP

    Any chance that Drew would add in the functionality to keep the phone’s screen on when the device is plugged in to a charging device? It’s super useful and something I miss with the HTC One!

  • Tom Kelsall

    I’m currently running CyanogenMod on one of my other devices and I really REALLY miss the contact integration and the “little touches” that Sense brings. The basics of the interface are just different; You tend to forget them on either platform after a while – but the features Sense quietly and effciently adds to Android are fantastic and I hate being without them.

  • David Guija Alcaraz

    Really love the Sense HTC personalization. I’ve tried some other ROM and I always miss something from the Sense.
    A sign it’s a good design is that it’s copyed in some ways from other manufacturers and designers.

  • Aleksandar Petrović

    Sense 5 on my HTC One is really good and user-friendly and a good refresh from Sense 4.
    Looking forward to seeing what HTC will bring to the table.

  • Ashley D’Antonio

    i still haven’t gotten the update

  • parth doshi


  • NightAngel79

    My life needs to make more Sense!!

  • radiotrib

    I’m currently running a custom ROM on my HTC One, but one of the criteria it had to satisfy was that it had to include Sense 5. I have been a sense user since the early days, and this patest iteration is a remarkable triumph. To change almost all of th visual signals that said ‘Sense’ and to still keep an old Sense user like me happy was challenge enough, but I’m actually even happier with 5 than any of the other versions (and Blinkfeed has turned me into a news ‘snacker’ too) …

    I really do appreciate all the effort which has gone into making the worlds best smartphone into the worlds best user experience too .. Well done Dave Brinta, The Sense Team and especially well done HTC .. it took nerve to throw off the old … but you made the new even better …

    Here’s to Change

  • Michael van Dinther

    Please provide an option to remove BlinkFeed in the next update. Hope the designers continue with B/W Flat UI as well.

  • Bill EmbassyLimos

    Why was the caleimprovemenhanged so much, the original agenda view was terrific. There is now only times marked.
    The rest of the improvements are all good.