Many of us who have joined the app community come from contrasting backgrounds. While in many cases, prior experience in a different design and development industry can help a lot in finding your way in the app world, there are also numerous instances where the mindset ported from other domains can be detrimental to your app design learning curve.
In this piece, I will try to introduce you to the right way of thinking like an app designer. Hopefully these tips will help you design faster and with more success.
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Think and produce fast
Tons of apps are entering the market on a daily basis – so it is only fair to conclude that time is of the essence. Gone are the days where you’d spend eons working on fancy designs. Doing so will only enable one of your competitors to take the lead and ship earlier than you.
So how do you create a good design within a limited time frame? Start with wireframe-based and basic designs instead of opting for highly detailed Photoshop or Illustrator documents. You can take advantage of the fact that mobile app trends are leaning toward subtle and simple color schemes to remain focused on the practicality of your design, instead of choosing intricate hues and gradient combinations.
Using wireframe models has the added bonus to allow for fast corrections and updates to your designs, especially as you’re never too sure of the success of your prototype in the initial iterations of you development process and amendments are likely to happen.
One successful method is the lean UX paradigm (more on this in a future post), which involves a repeating cycle of design and development with thorough end-user testing in between.
Think “mobile first”
Your app might end up being used on a wide range of devices, including a variety of smartphones and tablets. But as a successful habit, design for smaller smartphone screens to maximize efficiency. First of all, smartphones outnumber tablets many times over. Moreover, it’s easier to port mobile designs to larger screens than the other way around.
Web designers should pay special attention to this fact. Oldschoolers (including myself) are prone to thinking with the computer-desktop mindset when designing apps, which can lead to many design and development errors. It’s a little hard to get used to, but it’s not impossible.
The Mobile First paradigm will help you figure out your app’s top priorities and extract what is really crucial to your app.
Team up with your developers
Creating successful apps is all about teamwork. And by teamwork, I mean more than just sharing office with your fellow developers and marketers (though that, too, is important).
You need good designers and programmers that are in constant communication and collaboration. Designers and developers’ expertise should complement each other, not conflict with one another. I’ve filled both shoes in my career, and I’ve had first-hand experience of the benefits of developers and designers working in harmony and in parallel.
As a designer, you must remain conscious of the complexities of the development phase as you proceed with designing your app. If you have experience in development, it will be a breeze. If you don’t, you can get familiar by using development tools to design your app. Most of these IDEs, such as XCode, allow you to design app screens based on elements that are actually available to developers during the programming phase. This gives you the benefit to create app designs that will exactly reflect the end product.
It also helps you to integrate your design artifacts into the team and development process, and you’ll be able to deliver your designs in a format that is immediately usable by your developers. Try to avoid methods that include cascading processes, where one individual’s job depends totally on the result of another. Designers are always leading the development cycle, but developers should be able to start their work before all of the design elements have been settled.
Also of great import is to bridge communication gaps with the developers. Developers and designers come from different galaxies and tend to express similar things in different ways. Determine a common set of terms that will be used by all members in the team to make sure you’re all speaking the same language.
Use various operating systems
You might be an iPhone fan, but users of your app will have various devices, and more likely than not, you’ll develop your apps for all major platforms: Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Therefore it is crucial to have experience using all platforms and to know the trends and sensibilities that each of them involve.
One of the biggest mistakes designers make is to stick to one operating system when designing their apps and subsequently try to literally translate their design idioms into other platforms. The tested truth is that such a course of action is a recipe for disaster. Interaction patterns differ on varying platforms and app designs must reflect those variations. The location of tabs and menu displays are two examples of areas that vary in different platforms.
To become familiar with differences between platforms, try downloading the same app on different OSes, and examine the design differences between variations of the app. If it looks and feels the same on all platforms, you know that you’re looking at a failed design. This is a mistake that even big titles make at times. Alternately, you can try the same for a successful app and see how the variations between different platforms make the app easier to use on all platforms.
Over to you
These were basic best practices that can help you become a better app designer. What do you do to become more successful in your app design? I’d love to hear it. Please leave your comments below.