by Glenda Pastor
When I started helping out designing the user experience for Numlock’s mobile apps in 2009, there were a very limited number of resources on the topic. There were plenty of books and written articles for web design. UX design for mobile apps was a whole new game, however, and I had little to go by. In the “early days,” most of what I knew came from downloading apps others have published on the market and immersing myself in a variety of mobile applications – fart apps and all.
As we gained experience at Numlock, we began to give more and more attention to design. Anybody worth his programming salt can code an app but not every programmer can make it beautiful, engaging and compelling. The standards for design became higher and our team had to unlearn some old habits and learn new ones. Fortunately, there are now a substantial amount of written resources on designing specifically for mobile apps and today, when we hire a designer or an intern learning UX design, I usually recommend these three books to get them started:
This is a practical guide on how to design “tapworthy” iPhone apps. Clark explains his principles of good design in an easy to understand and conversational manner. Don’t be fooled by the words “easy to understand and conversational” however – this book lays out a deep understanding of what makes a mobile app stand out.
It’s sensible (“Go figure, but people use mobile apps when they’re mobile”) AND it packs a punch (“By using a physical object as your interface metaphor, for example, you might ensure your user’s instant familiarity, but you’re also limited by the expected form and function of the original real-world artifact…Sometimes the right thing to do is leapfrog familiar metaphors instead of reinventing them. Allow yourself to explore the possibilities, and don’t be afraid to experiment with offbeat concepts”).
Newbies will find examples of existing apps (USA Today, Gowalla, Facebook, etc.) in the book helpful. Even though the design guidelines are specific to iPhone, mobile app designers will find most of the principles in Tapworthy applicable to other platforms.
Designing the iPhone User Experience
(A User-Centered Approach to Sketching and Prototyping iPhone Apps)
by Suzanne Ginsberg
This book has a great overview of the different types of iPhone apps (Utility, Productivity and Immersive Applications) as well as the functionalities of the iPhone device itself (Multi-Touch Display, Location & Compass, Cameras, etc.). For somebody who’s just familiarizing himself with the iOS interface, Chapters 1 and 2 of Designing the iPhone User Experience would be a great aid.
What I like about this book is that it shares a wealth of information on how to conduct research for conceptualizing (and not just designing) mobile apps. A huge chunk is also devoted to developing the app concept from brainstorming, to sketching and prototyping. I like that case studies of existing companies are given as it gives me an idea of how other businesses are researching and prototyping apps for their target audience.
Lastly, Designing the iPhone User Experience not only tackles research but usability testing and branding/advertising as well. I would say that entrepreneurs, ad executives or managers in charge of their companies’ mobile apps conceptualization and branding will have the most to gain from this book.
Designing With The Mind In Mind
(Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules)
by Jeff Johnson
Call me a geek but I found Designing With The Mind in Mind such a delight to read. It basically deals with the design of interactive computer systems but the concepts are broad enough to include mobile UX design. This book appeals to the pseudo-scientist/psychologist in me as it not only discusses well-researched user interface design guidelines (consistency, universal usability, informative feedback, etc.) it also explores in great detail the science behind them.
So many interesting facts about visual perception, hand-eye-brain connection and their application to user interface design are given in the book. The chapter on Responsiveness and The Many Time Constants of the Brain is a personal favorite. For instance, it’s a common practice by UI designers to display a “fake,” static version of a screen while the actual, interactive screen is loading in the background to make it appear that the app has displayed in an instant. But did you know that 1.0 second is the maximum lag time that this gap is allowed to occur before a user gets impatient and considers the app unresponsive?
Johnson’s Designing With The Mind in Mind leaves no doubt that designing is not just an art – it’s also based on science.
There are other interesting books and written resources for would-be-mobile app designers. But of course, even though design guidelines can be learned, creativity is a whole new different matter. My take on this is that for a truly amazing UX design to shine through, discipline and creativity must go hand-in-hand.
(Our head honcho would also like to add – bring in passion to the equation and you’ve got yourself a killer app).