Everywhere you turn these days people are talking about mobile apps. Apps for this, apps for that. The statistics too, have been kind of staggering. One recent study by Flurry, showed that consumers spent 81 minutes per day using mobile apps, compared to 74 minutes of web surfing. As more people begin to spend time on appms compared to the Internet, you may be wondering if mobile app design is an area you should begin to explore and how transferable your web design skills are. In this post, we checked in with a number of experts in the field to gain their perspectives. Joining us are Robin Nixon, Aaron Maxwell, Sarah Lynn, Mike Gualtieri, Josh Clark, and J.D. Biersdorfer.
The ElementsHow do you view this time in web design? Robin Nixon: I believe that right now is the most exciting time for programmers and developers since the early 1980s, when microcomputers first blossomed. Once the PC took the computing throne, only Macs and the Linux operating system offered any real competition (and precious little at that). But now the operating system wars are on again, this time fueled by the exponential take up of mobile devices such as phones and tablets, and the phenomenal downloading of apps for them, which means there's a world of opportunities out there. In my view, "There's gold in them hills."
Aaron MaxwellAaron Maxwell is founder of Mobile Web Up, a mobile web design agency. What should web designers think about as they embark upon the area of web apps? Many of the same concepts still apply. As a designer, think about what actions you want the user to be able to take—what experiences you want them to be able to have. This focus is often the best place to start. Menus are most effective when they do not overwhelm with too many choices. Organize into a hierarchical, drill-down structure, with no more than a dozen choices on each level. Consider whether using a tabbed navigation will help the user quickly take the different action they need. Spacing of elements is tricky on mobile. Extra padding is a very useful technique on the desktop for semantic grouping; you can place a group of widgets, images, or text boxes together that are related, and distinguish them from a different group just by separation of vertical and horizontal space. But on a mobile screen, you just have so much real estate to work with. So the designer must be more economical with how elements are spatially separated, padding with just a few pixels rather than dozens. This can work by including other cues. Rounded corners around a perimeter help imply grouping. And different background colors can also communicate a change of context. What you omit is at least as important as what you put in. Think of it like this: every item you add to the settings menu, for instance, has a cost in added complexity, in time and attention of the user. Carefully consider whether any feature or element is worth it, especially considering the kind of high-distraction environments that mobile apps tend to be used. In your opinion, what apps exemplify good design? It's important to study other highly successful mobile apps to find what's effective. Look at the famous names: Facebook, Skype, whatever Twitter client is most popular this week. Ask friends and family what apps they use the most, and try to figure out why. (Hint: they may not consciously know why, so asking them directly won't help much.) Study Mobile UI Patterns.
Sarah LynnSarah Lynn is a web designer and creative and the owner of Sarah Lynn Design. How do you suggest designers should go about learning mobile app design? I've found some of the best ways to learn how to design for apps is by researching the market. Look at some of the apps out there, analyzing their functionality, what elements they utilize that are already a part of the phone's offerings and how they could be improved upon to be easier to use. Study the interactions of different elements and how different apps compare to one another. Many companies have already put in the time to do extensive user testing. Learn from what they have developed already and find ways to build upon them and make them better. There are many great books out there to get you started. One I highly recommend is a book by Suzanne Ginsburg titled Designing the iPhone User Experience. If of course you're interested in the iOS market. It talks about user testing and how to plan for an app design. A great place to start when you aren't sure how to go about the process of designing an app. Learning how to gain user feedback and heavily plan on paper before going to the computer is a great skill for any app designer (or interactive designer in general). Another great way to learn is to get in touch with an app designer who is already producing great work. Ask them to be a mentor and give you any pointers they are willing to offer up. Most designers are willing to spend a few moments of their time if you ask nicely. Get feedback from your friends and other designers you may know. Show them your prototypes and get their feedback. In your opinion, how transferable are web design skills for designing for apps? Somewhat transferable. I would say it falls more in the realm of interaction design as a whole. Which encompasses them both. There are many different things you need to consider though, due to the size of the devices, requirements of the different platforms, and simply because of the way the users interact with apps compared to a website. Mobile user profiles can vary quite a bit, from the typical on-the-go mobile user, to the mobile user who is simply too lazy to grab their laptop and uses their apps while hanging around the house (myself included.) So studying these patterns and designing to fit different lifestyles can be similar in a sense to designing a website. No matter what the medium you're always looking to design it around your target audience. Learning to think in a smaller, and often times less flexible format can be challenging. The same goes for thinking about landscape vs vertical & how you might adapt your app to work both ways. Leveraging the mobile device's built-in tools is another reason why researching is so important when it comes to designing apps. It's almost best to pick one platform and learn the ins and outs of it, rather than trying to learn them all. It can be quite daunting and overwhelming if you try to learn it all at once. Just like any new medium, it requires the willingness to learn and keep up-to-date with the fast-paced market to be successful.
Mike GualtieriMike Gualtieri, is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the new report, Mobile App Design Best Practices. What does a designer for apps need to pay particular attention to in designing a good user experience? User expectations are higher for mobile apps than they are for websites. Apple's iPhone apps brought design cachet to mobile apps. Also, the touch and gesture capabilities provide new ways of interacting with apps. The first step to design great apps is to understand your users better than they understand themselves. Traditional quantitative and qualitative research is important to create personas (fictional people that represent your users). Great design comes from imagination— designer imagining what a user would find useful, usable, and desirable in the context of the app. For mobile apps in particular, designers should consider the five dimensions of mobile design context: location, locomotion, immediacy, intimacy, and device. Source: Forrester Research, Inc. What advice would you give to web designers thinking about moving in this direction? Do it. Mobile app design for smartphones and tablets is a growing opportunity. Everyone needs great design. There are three paths to mobile app development:
- HTML5. Apps
- Hybrid. Is a native application that renders HTML5 inside of it.
J.D. BiersdorferJ.D. Biersdorfer is a technology journalist and author of several books on gadgets including Best iPhone Apps. In your opinion, what makes for a well-designed app and good user experience? After looking at 400-500 apps for the book, Best iPhone Apps, I think the apps that work best are the ones where the user interface has been specifically designed for the small phone screen and not apps that take the desktop approach (with lots of icons and menus) and try to cram too much into the space. A good app is also a stable app—well-tested and relatively crash-free. Are there any particular apps that come to mind for being good design examples? Although I didn't include it in the book at the time because I found it cluttered and crashy, "AccuWeather" has redesigned its iPhone app into a really gorgeous weather program with big, colorful graphics and a fairly intuitive interface so you don't have to dig around several screens just to see how hot it is — and how hot it will be. The free and the paid apps differ slightly in the design, but both use the same visual elements to quickly convey weather conditions.
AccuWeatherI also like the "Kayak" app for the stuff the developers put into it besides the usual flight-and-hotel-booking part. For example, there's a section you can tap to find out how much each airline charges you to check bags, another to find out what stores and restaurants are in the airport you're stuck in, a currency converter and even a packing checklist to make it a well-rounded practical travel app that's easy to navigate. News-wise, I still think the "BBC News" app is great for headline hounds. The app's creators manages to find a legible way to put nine top stories (with headlines and small pictures) on the home screen, along with a Breaking News banner and a button to tap so you can hear live streaming BBC Radio. It's very easy to edit the categories of news you want to follow and there are links to popular pre-recorded video and audio clips you can stream, like the brief World News Summary video. This post was brought to you by the offset booklet printing company, Next Day Flyers. What are your experiences with mobile app design? What apps do you think demonstrate good design principles and user interface? Let us know in the comments below.
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