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The State of App Design in 2016

the-state-of-app-design-in-2016App development and app design are not the same things. There are many great developers who make lousy designers. One skill is analytical. The other is much more artistic. It is rare to find those two parts of the brain working equally as well in the same person.

The current state of app design shows that the developer half of the brain is winning. That often makes for poor user experiences with an otherwise excellent app. Many of the problems people perceive with today’s apps can be solved with a bit more care with design. Here are a few things we can learn from the current state of mobile design trends, and how apps can be improved:

Design Apps with Similarities Across Platforms

Notice how the Kontrol app has a similar look and feel on both the iPhone and the Apple Watch? That is a pretty neat trick seeing as to how those two devices look and work nothing alike. The controls and graphics are simple and work well across hardware platforms.

It can be rather jarring to use an app on two different hardware platforms that look and work nothing alike. While it is convenient to have an app on multiple platforms, a learning curve that has to be doubled ends up being double trouble for both developer and user alike. This is definitely an area that can be improved in the design community.

Let Each Device Be Its Own, Unique Self

While it is true that apps need to be similar across platforms, that does not mean that they need to be identical. They only need to be familiar. However, to try to make them identical would be a huge mistake. A tablet and a smartwatch are not the same device. One has a 10″ to 12″ screen. The other has a screen smaller than 2″. The input and output controls do not match across devices.

What’s needed is a common design language. Within that constraint, each device offers unique features that make them special. Developers have not always done a great job at respecting the difference in device types. iOS tablet apps tend to be better at differentiating from phone apps than Android tablet apps.

Use Visuals to Their Full Advantage

Everyone knows that images can emphasize your content. On some sites, images are the content. Because images are such an important part of your content, you have to think just as carefully about them as you do about the words you use.

Images that are not offensive to you may be off-putting to a significant portion of your audience. Men and women have very different ideas about color. Different cultures are also sensitive to colors. Too much white may invoke a sense of mourning in China. In other countries, that royal purple of yours may be the color of death.

Also, use images that can be viewed to their full advantage across hardware platforms. A smallish image with lots of detail might work well enough on a desktop computer with a 27″ Retina display. But that image might be somewhat ridiculous on a 5″ smartphone display.

In 2016, images are all over the place. Some can be resized with a tap, others are fixed. Sometimes, images are adjusted when they are a part of mobile assets. Sometimes, no consideration is given to mobile responsive design. Your users are taking advantage of multiple inputs. Your designs have to be appealing on those inputs.

Take Advantage of Unique, Platform Features

The reason people buy an iPad Pro is because it is great for side by side apps, takes advantage of a full-sized keyboard, and can be used with an Apple Pencil. Fail to include these features in your app, and iPad Pro users will rightfully ignore it. The same is true for all device users who want to take advantage of the unique features to which they were drawn in the first place.

In 2016, app developers are still putting in the least amount of work to reach the broadest audience. This tactic assures that no one is happy. Trying to please everyone is a losing proposition. Superserve a profitable and discerning niche, and you can corner the market.

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App development and app design are not the same things. There are many great developers who make lousy designers. One skill is analytical. The other is much more artistic. It is rare to find those two parts of the brain working equally as well in the same person. The current...