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An often overlooked aspect of app development, mobile app design acts as the final frontier between the code and the end user. Because of this, when building an app, designers are regarded as a representation of the people using the product. They must always keep the target audience in mind and try to emulate their way of thinking. To accomplish that, UI & graphic designers need to first be app users.

At Thinslices, mobile app design is regarded as an essential part of the process, and as such, receives all the attention it deserves, from the first meeting with the client to the moment the product is delivered. As you can imagine, there are a few steps that need to be followed during each project, and we have a recipe for nearly everything, including how to manage any hiccups that might occur. Where do the designers enter the picture?

Following next are their sources of inspiration, the steps of the creative process, the main tools of the trade, and categories of coworkers designers interact with along a project. As a bonus, we’ve put together a list of 20 essential tools for mobile app design, including the ones we use and viable alternatives to them.

What Are Our Designers’ Sources of Inspiration?

Thanks to an iPhone commercial from 2009, the world now has the saying “there’s an app for that.” Now, there may actually be several apps serving the same purpose. We strive to take an original approach to everything we develop, so this is not the case with our products. However, such scenarios raise questions about what sets similarly-purposed apps apart. For starters, there’s the way the target audience interacts with the apps. They should be built to be intuitive, without any additional documentation. Secondly, and most importantly, there’s the design, and this is where some mobile apps really shine.

While the designer’s own app-using experience is sometimes enough to be a source of inspiration, it’s important to take the client’s point of view into account, as well. To ensure this, the client should provide examples of designs that he likes, including, but not limited to other apps, websites, or even logos. These should provide the designers with an idea of the direction they should be headed in.

Yet another source of inspiration can be found in the client’s competitors, depending on whether or not the things they’re doing work. If they aren’t performing well, designers can get a pretty clear idea about what could be improved. Of course, the final user’s reaction to a particular design is the ultimate indicator of whether the whole thing has been implemented properly. 

From Concept to Prototype

Ideally, there’s an exploration phase that takes place right after meeting the client for the first time. This phase includes extensive research on data related to the project, including defining the personas. After identifying the needs of the end-users and getting a list of requirements from the Business Analysts, designers proceed to creating sketches and wireframes during the initial workshop. These will help them build various user scenarios and experience maps later on.

Thinslices Under the Microscope: The Designers

When this process is finished, the client is shown two different versions of the wireframe. One is then chosen to be translated into a visual design. This is one of those moments when the client and the designers can have different views, but it’s our conviction that everything can be solved through communication. Clients can have a different perspective on things as they interact more closely with the end users, whereas designers have a better grasp of what works and what doesn’t in terms of user experience. It’s important that both parties provide arguments for why a particular element should be implemented or not. A list of pros and cons is sufficient for making the other party understand why a particular choice is better than another.

Details, Details, Details

It’s the little things that can make or break a mobile app, so designers should pay a great deal of attention to everything that they implement. The three main things to focus on are navigation, typography and color scheme. It may sound like navigation is a UX designer’s job, but all capable mobile app designers should keep user experience and the user flow in mind at all times.

The navigation of a mobile or Web app should be intuitive. If the user can’t find what they’re looking for they may become frustrated and abandon the app. Furthermore, making an app that’s easy to use and navigate is more important than making it look ‘cool.’

Thinslices Under the Microscope The Designers

Unless you’re designing a game or a drawing app, chances are that there will be plenty of text in there. Readability plays an essential role, and any and all text should be easy to read. The font chosen for the app, along with the size and style will determine whether users can read the text or not. Space is a valuable asset, and maximizing it without cramping the text will improve the user experience.

Picking the color scheme is the most visually appealing part of designing a mobile app. The colors need to complement the text and the overall look of the app, and designers need to find a balance between the two. The mobile world has been craving simplicity lately, so opting for too many vibrant colors can distract and confuse the user. Thinking of different color schemes can help designers create more versions for the client to choose from.

Done Designing? Start Testing!

After establishing the details pertaining to navigation, typography and color scheme, it’s time to see whether the prototype actually works on the devices the app is designed for. This ensures that the end user will enjoy using the app and be productive while doing so. It is necessary to test the app to see how it looks and works on devices of various sizes and with different technical specs.

Thinslices Under the Microscope The Designers

Scalability is equally important in terms of design, and not just for development. A well-built app should provide a consistent experience on all devices it’s intended for, regardless of the device’s age.

Tools of the Trade for Our Designers

Are you wondering what tools our designers use to make all that magic happen? First of all, there are some low-tech tools involved, such as pencil and paper, but other than that, we’re relying on modern apps and technologies for bringing our designers’ ideas to life. Drawing the UI design is done in Sketch, while delivering assets involves the use of Zeplin, and sometimes Photoshop, depending on the project’s needs.

Sketching the app is the most time-consuming part of the creative process, but getting things right at this stage will help designers save time later. Imagine what would happen if the designers proceeded to create app prototypes and even started working with the front-end developers on the app, only to discover that something went wrong with the wireframe.

Furthermore, clickable prototypes are created through InVision and Marvel, with a pinch of Sketch plugins for good measure. Making sure that the prototyping applications are compatible with the interface the mobile app is designed for is essential.

All of these are reliable tools whose effectiveness has already been proven, so we’re not experimenting on our clients. That’s not to say that we’re reluctant to trying new things, but bleeding-edge tech often has some risks associated with it. 

Staying on Top of Current Design Trends

Whether or not it’s OK to follow current trends is debatable, and some designers even argue that it’s better to rely on basic methods. That being said, ignoring popular trends in design would be foolish. Smartphone manufacturers innovate constantly, and the software ecosystem should evolve alongside it.

Some of the resources that help us stay in touch with the latest trends include dribbble, Designer News, Medium, and also detox for Facebook - a Chrome plugin that enables changing the sources of the social network’s newsfeed. Following only designers on twitter can also do the trick, as both UI and UX designers are quite active on that social platform. 

How Do Our Designers Interact with Their Coworkers?

Obviously, for the entire process to work smoothly, mobile app designers need to interact with their coworkers throughout the entire lifetime of the project. That includes the Business Analysts in the first phase, but also front-end developers and Project Managers further down the road. A permanent collaboration ensures the cohesion of the final product.

What Is It that We Do Differently?

Our designers have the freedom to experiment either with entire processes or parts of processes. Since they exhibit disciplined autonomy, they are always confident that their decisions are aligned with the ones of the company. On top of that, our designers’ opinions are always taken into account, since they are in charge of the look and feel of the final product, as well as the relationship between the mobile app and the end user.

Ultimately, mobile app design is something very rewarding, especially because of an apps’ potential to be used by millions of people. With the right skills and attitude, and a great team to provide the coding, mobile app designers can create the right app for the target audience identified by the client.

20 Essential Tools for Mobile App Design

We’ve put together a list of the mobile app design tools that we are using, along with viable alternatives to each and every one of them. The categories we focused on are Wireframing, Prototyping, UI Design, and Asset Delivery, with a few Inspiration sources added for good measure. Check it out and share it with anyone who might be interested in the topic!



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Ilie Ghiciuc, Founder & CEO

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