I was browsing the Design Observer the other day, (as I tend to do daily), and I noticed that they have just released an iPhone app, a pretty sharp one at that. This got me thinking about the best practices and design techniques to bring to iPhone apps and other mobile app development. After some extensive searching, I came up with a lot of recommended iPhone and mobile apps for graphic designers, but no articles about what to think about when designing for smartphones.
Our company, unlike the majority of app development companies, does not design for game-based mobile applications. Because our history is so rooted in large-scale business application software, thats what we live and breathe. We have created over 30 mobile apps across all of the platforms, but they have been primarily business-focused, business-designed. This is why the Design Observer iPhone app struck me; it manages to balance business and leisure. Its beautiful and intuitive, and even introduces a new way to look at something: Mondrian-Style. So how do business-based iPhone app developers turn text-based material into well-designed and even sexy applications? What lessons can we learn from other successful business-function iPhone apps?
Because most of these apps tend to come from existing businesses with existing websites, the biggest mistake in creating an iPhone app for your brand is to go off-base. This is an extension of your brand, so it has to reflect the same design principles and considerations that any other company materials might have. Remember your brand colors, typefaces, logo presence, messaging behind your brand and even the interaction paradigm of your website. What is the ultimate goal of your website? Translate that goal to the iPhone app.
App icons are something so small, yet very important. When iPhone users are looking to add another app to their roster, they are very much influenced by the icon, because it is the visual representation of the app. Most users will not go to iTunes to download the app and sync with their phone. They will download it straight from the app store on their phone, meaning the initial contact they have is with the icon, and not the description of the application. For business iPhone apps, the icon truly depends on brand recognition.
Because smaller companies and startups do not have the brand recognition that larger entities like Chase Bank have, its critical that the design of the icon strike a balance between brand building and function of the app. For instance, say you are a startup bank, looking to create presence in the app store. Because people wont know your logo quite yet, youll want to incorporate your logo and something that indicates the financial world. It is easier said than done, especially given the real-estate of the icon, but a trusted graphic design partner can help you with that.
Large Companies/Well-Known Brands
Larger companies have longer history and brand recognition, so its likely that they can get away with using their logo as the icon for their iPhone app.
Introducing New Views
The thing about mobile apps in general is that people tend to interact with them in a fairly static way. They like knowing what to expect and that their next step will be intuitive. This doesnt mean that you cannot be creative. Think about elements of the design as a “new view, with a similar interaction.” Like the Design Observer app, that brought the “Mondrian View” to the table, which displays articles based on their photos, in a tile-like display. The user clicks on the picture to read the story. The thing to remember is that these new views should not be the main function of your app, they can add to the value to the app overall.
Because this is not a gaming app, there needs to be a different consideration for graphics. The cost-benefit of good graphics is that often the better the graphics, the slower the application. It simply takes a long time to load quality (isnt it always the way?). However, when people are using business applications, they are more concerned with the function and ease. Their expectation is greater for the task of accomplishing something than the visual impact. Clean and sharp design is usually the best way to proceed; it keeps things simple but not boring, making sure that the design does not compete with the function.