In our “How to Design an App” series, we’ll be going step-by-step through the design process for mobile apps, with tips on how to make your apps more efficiently along the way.
Following on from our last post about Refining your Design, we’re now moving on to aesthetics, and how you can polish up your prototype app so that it’s ready for the app stores.
In this article, we’re only touching briefly on visual design in context to the entire app design process, but visual design of your app is really important (and we could write a whole other series about aesthetics in itself), so whilst we’ve presented the design process in linear steps, don’t leave aesthetic considerations to the very end. You should aim to start thinking about possible visual choices early on, so that your interface visuals develop alongside your prototype testing.
There are many schools of thought about how to tackle visual design, and none of them are suitable for every type of project, you’re approach should suit the app you’re designing in style and tone for it to provide an honest reflection of the character of your app.
Here are a couple of ways that you could start approaching visual design:
Design for a Theme
Is there a strong theme running through your project? If so, you may want to think about capitalizing on it by adhering to a strong visual theme. Thematic designs can provide an easy narrative for users to follow, and add a sense of playfulness to your app.
Think about metaphors from the “real world” that can be included in your app to help convey new or complicated ideas. However, make sure that the metaphors and themes that you use are actually adding to the experience somehow, and not just confusing your users, because if they are constantly having to decode your theme to remember which button is “Back”, they might get bored very quickly.
Design for an Audience
By the time you’ve started to thinking about design, you should have a clear idea about who your target audience is, and what it is they love, need and despise. If you choose to lean your designs towards a particular audience, you can tap into your users’ social, cultural, and subcultural ties to evoke feelings that this app was made for them.
If you’ve been doing your research on your target audience, you probably have a list of websites, publications and events that they are interested in – by picking out key themes and trends among these resources, you can start to establish your own cultural links in your app.
Design for a Time
Some apps aren’t meant to last forever, Popcorn Apps are designed for particular events or moments, and for “disposal” apps like these, creating visuals based on the latest trends can be a great way to make your app seem like it’s on the cutting edge.
Smashing Magazine always provides a rounded look at what the latest trends are, like this Overview of Web Design Trends for 2012. Trends for 2012 are moving towards less “polished” looks, into more rustic, organic, and handmade aesthetics – which is a trend that’s echoing not just in web design, but across product, fashion and photography as well.
But beware, these trends always look great as they start to rise in popularity, because they are reasonably new ways of presenting information (relative to last year’s trends), but as everyone starts to include at least some of these visual elements into all of their designs, they can start to look tired.
Of course, that’s not to say it doesn’t look brilliant at the time.
Design for a Brand
If you’re designing an app for an existing brand, you’ll likely to have a whole host of visual elements and devices to pick up on in your app design. If you’re brand’s website uses particular colors, shapes or fonts, a really simple way to provide some visual consistency is to mimic those visuals in your app.
Those visual cues will help users quickly understand that this app relates to your brand, and can provide a familiar feel for users that will tap into their emotional sides much deeper than designing for the latest trends.
Of course, beauty is subjective, so remember that however you approach your design, not everyone will like it (especially if you’re including questions about aesthetics in your User Observations).
In our final post of the series, we’ll cover where to go next once you’ve got your prototyped, tested and beautified app ready. But in the mean time, what do you think makes an app beautiful? Comment below, or let us know @AppFurnace.