So we have this “living” app we started working on about 2 maybe 3 years ago.
It serves its need for those that use it but, as new needs arise in an ever-changing landscape, new features need to be thought out and implemented. We also need to, not just survive in a sea of countless apps that vie for our attention, but to grow our reach and geographical footprint by onboarding new end users (or app members as we like to call them), the app needs to stay relevant with updated release cycles with new user beneficial features every so often.
Once we nail the differentiating factors insofar as a new feature set and its related functions go, then we have to look into making the app more aesthetically pleasing and more user-friendly.
The last two terms are what we associate UI and UX with. User Interface (commonly known as UI) is how your app makes a person feel when he looks at it. UX or User Experience, on the other hand, is how someone feels when he interacts with it. Both can be summed up as to what value your app brings to the person using it on a regular basis.
A lot of research and planning goes into designing/updating App interface elements and new feature sets. I often find myself working off a set of wireframes with a brief summary which have either landed on my desk or by deciphering the hiding clues in a digital brief appearing as a PBI on my sprint board. Yep, we work in an Agile environment with certain measurables in place. But as a designer, one finds it easier to adjust to the agile environment as, for the most part, we have been doing this all along. A change in pace and direction is all too often a part of the deal so, research, planning, and effective time management help in the long run. I call this change in pace, the Greyhound Effect.
Pinterest was made for me! It’s usually my first port of call in my initial research and discovery phase. It’s enough to get my creativity aroused, stimulated, and flowing and I often end up reviewing someone’s work on Behance via a Pinterest link. One of the key elements of any design process is a collection of ideas to review before you put pen to paper. It’s funny how the word ‘key’ crept in there because a handy desktop Apple native application call Keynote is invaluable for this and other purposes as I will mention later on. Keynote if you don’t know is the PowerPoint of the Apple world and makes collecting images for reference a breeze.
As a part of the research and discovery phase, one cannot ignore what’s out there. If there’s a suggestion of an existing app to look at, then it means downloading, onboarding, and reviewing what you think might work – why re-invent the wheel when you can simply restyle it!
Pen to Paper.
Pen and paper may seem archaic, but if you’re like me, with a vision for something in your head, it’s best to scribble it out so as not to lose that train of thought, even if it’s just an idea that you may never use, If you ever run into a block, you can reset your mind by looking at your initial scratches and reset your thoughts. Often good ideas start out on inked pieces of paper. Early paper prototypes are easier to share and manipulate. Pen and paper are universal and versatile – “universatile”.
Tools of the trade
From hard prototyping to soft prototyping, Adobe XD was once called Experience Design and have opted for the acronym instead. Free to download, this software package has grown up in recent times and is quite usable and easy to understand. XD is what it says it does, prototyping with the ability to share your project via a web client – so no need to download software to review your working prototype. The drawback to using XD is its limitations in the ability to create effects on images, that’s if you are a seasoned Photoshopper and also to create vector logos and icons – as in the de facto, world-famous vector draw software application called Adobe Illustrator. XD does work seamlessly with both programs insofar as importing elements, and one can even manipulate one’s vector creations inside of XD without glitch.
Photoshop – The Golden Boy of image manipulation.
This oldie of the design world has come a long, long way and is still one of the best pieces of software to use as a designer. I knew PS in its infant stages some 25 years ago and still to this day, the possibilities are endless. My one gripe about using PS is the large file sizes you end up with – but I have only myself to blame for this as I try to avoid the risk of deleting something only to find that a stakeholder changed his or her mind and would like the previous implementation reinstated.
Illustrator – The icon guru
Icons and logos. Nothing does it better and lives to tell. Illustrator has filled the gap once left by Freehand when they eventually shut its doors. Seamless integration with both PS and XD and the easy to export app assets options makes this software a winner.
From just about any free stock website but in recent times including Pexel and Unsplash, the overuse of free images has become less desirable in the designer’s world. I opted for Adobe Stock images which are fresh and one can only get with a subscription so you can rest assured that not every mobile advert will look the same out there.
Once again – Keynote comes to the rescue. Not only for quick and easy wireframing, but also for visual document creation for App features with annotation. I recently created an entire animated slide-to-slide video production with background audio and voice overlays. Keynote offers one the ability to export in multiple formats so you can generate your documents in pdf format while static images can be output in Jpegs and your slides can stay as they are or output in a video format. Another thing I find Keynote useful for when words are not enough, is its ability to create app feature animations for demonstration purposes.
Iterate and Improve
I often work closely with team members who I know will have a better understanding of a particular feature update that I’m tasked with. Seasoned developers often know the limitations and pitfalls while trying to navigate the best route to meet their ends and guide me along certain paths for me to reach mine. A clever wiki system ensures that all developers have access to finalised artwork which is extracted in their correct format and uploaded timeously.
There are no two ways about it, apps have to be tested before release. Testing apps early goes a long way to catching unknown issues later which could result in less downtime fixing bugs. I test apps to compare to what I designed and relate my feedback as I do.