Designing iPhone Apps - Best Practices from the Pros

Posted by Katie Del Angel on Mon, Feb 22, 2010
It was a packed house at Hill Holliday for Friday morning's event, Designing iPhone Apps: It's More than Just Beautiful Coding, where our mobile industry pro panel (Raj Aggarwal of Localytics, Steve Brykman of Apperian, Anna Callahan of RaizLabs, Dan Katcher of Rocket Farm Studios, Bryan Maleszyk of Molecular, and Yoni Samlan of Active Frequency) shared their insight on what it takes to make iPhone apps that truly create lasting engagement with users, as well as considerations to keep in mind with the rising importance of the Android. The panel provided some engaging cases for the audience to really understand the importance of things like prototyping and maintaining a focus in the application design process, and attendees were able to walk away with some solid takeaways and great pointers.

Brian Maleszyk
Brian Maleszyk was the first panelist to speak to some best practices he has found in working with iPhone app creation. He presented the thought that you really need to create with "Results-oriented design" in mind. He went on to explain that thinking about the goal is key, but make sure to think about the medium, too. Whatever platform you are designing an application for, SEO is still a critical factor, and often one that people tend to overlook for mobile. He pointed out that with over 60,000 apps out there, you have to make yours stand out. He concluded that the way to do that is to be sure to stay on top of measurement - measuring the app is important, but equally as important is measuriPhone has thousands of apps - Make yours stand out!ement of what people are saying about the app. Brian's last words - "Start small - start really, really small" so you can really pay attention and design your app based on that feedback.

Check out Bryan Maleszyk's presentation here!

Anna Callahan
Anna Callahan presented her thoughts next, emphasizing the importance of prototyping. She started by explaining the importance to design your app to do ONE thing - and only one thing - and do it well. Allowing users to get in, do what they need to do, and do it quickly is the biggest goal, and prototyping is a big part of getting that right. She demonstrated the differences and problem areas of a two apps, which really dilineated how easy finding areas for improvement in design can be as long as you're willing to test things out. She also noted that you have to apply style - "You don't have to drink the Apple Kool-Aid", she said, but just don't let traditional web design ideas take over. For example, a home page isn't always functional and it loses valuable space within an app.

Anna continued with a few critical things to remember about user interface design. One of the things she noted was the concept of designing an app like a real object. Keep text and numbers to a minimum, and make the app a physical thing for more enjoyable engagement for the user. With that, she explained that multi-touch ergonomics were a big factor; remember iPhone users are using their fat fingers, not a mouse! Anna's key takeaway? "Prototyping is IMPORTANT - and fun!"

Check out Anna Callahan's presentation here!

Dan Katcher
Dan Katcher spoke next about designing gaming apps. He mentioned that games are different that other practical apps, but they still need specifics. Rules, rewards, etc. are important in creating focus for a gaming app. He explained that profiling is a major part of the design process; considering the needs, goals and potential features of the app are what eventually leads to a well-developed app. Dan emphasized that testing and prototyping with other people is really critical - getting other people to play the game and give feedback helps to completely realize all areas of improvement. If developers aren't having fun, it's likely the users won't either.

Steve Brykman
Steve Brykman presented next with an interesting look at some of his past clients, as well his best-practice pointers. He also emphasized the need to keep the app to the point. He demonstrated just how important that is with a few examples of prior customers with somewhat unrealistic demands to add uneccessary and irrelevant features to an app where they simply weren't needed. As Steve put it, "Don't add tech for tech's sake". You don't HAVE to add a feature to shake the phone or tap something just because iPhone can. You need to really understand the brand to understand what the app must achieve, and go from there. Listen to your clients - work with their needs and demands, mirror back their thoughts, and empower them. The point is that they know you know their brand and what it's about. He noted what might seem like obvious advice - check out their website thoroughly; if corporate thinks something is important enough to put on the site, it should probably be in the navigation bar of the app. But don't panic trying to put a site in an application - Steve's key tip - just streamline the app. Focus, and streamline so the app is to the point and still meets the customer's demands.

Yoni Samlan
Yoni Samlan spoke last about developing an application for Android, and how it differs from an iPhone. With the rising prominence of Android, he said you really ought to pay attention to the new opportunities - don't throw your iPhones and Blackberrys out the window, but pay attention and realize it's quickly gaining appreciation. He really stressed the importance of building in flexibility in the layout. While you can kind of force iPhone users one way, the tools available for Android apps really creates opportunities that you can use to your advantage. iPhone apps on an Android don't make sense - you really need to design for Android if that is what you want to do. Yoni also emphasized the idea of prototyping; he advised you should get your whole team using Androids to become really familiar with it because "[Y]ou'll never get it right if there isn't interaction". This enables you to really get the interface model right.Lastly, Yoni mentioned the difference between iPhone and Android are that market ratings are forever and don't get reviewed the same way, so make sure you do it right the first time.

Check out Yoni Samlan's Presentation here!

The panel wrapped up with an audience Q&A lead by Raj, which cleared up a few nagging questions for developers and interactive strategists. Anna responded to a frequently thought question - "How long is the iPhone app review process??" - saying that it really tops out at 2 weeks, but usually only takes one, which really answers why there are exponentially more apps for iPhone as opposed to Blackberry. Yoni even explained that now the focus is more on Android app development than Blackberyy, too. After attendees and panelists mingled and discussed the event and lingering questions, the Designing iPhone Apps event concluded as yet another great success with some really great feedback!