Why Every App Developer Should Learn App Design

Photo by Ben Kolde

The benefits of app design are immense. According to Robert Pressman’s book Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach, every dollar spent on app design saves $10 to $100 in app development. App development is an iterative process. Devoting time to app design results in less iteration and cost savings. App design also helps with an app’s bottomline. According to Forester Research, a well conceived app design can raise an app’s conversion rate by 400%.

While app design has an important role to play in app development, it is not usually considered the responsibility of an app developer. Instead, an app designer has the task of creating an app’s design and handing this over to an app developer to code. The typical setup of an app development team is to have separate roles for app designer and app developer.

In this article, we will look at why app developers should participate in the app design process. For the purposes of this article, we will use the term “app design” to represent both interface design and user experience design (or UI/UX).

What is App Design?

App design is the process of designing an app’s user interface and its user experience. User interface design focuses on the look or style of an app. It is a step-by-step process which includes creating a spec, a wireframe and a mockup with tools such as Sketch, Adobe XD or Figma. User experience focuses on the end user’s satisfaction with an app by improving the app’s usability and interactivity. It will include tasks such as user testing and prototyping. Put together, user interface and user experience design are all part of the app design process. This process is also referred to as UI/UX design but we will use the term app design in this article.

Image by Michael Flarup

The Problems of Separating App Design and App Development Roles

Many app development roles do not come with any requirements to know app design. App design is a task given to an app designer. Both the app designer and app developer need to work together to create an app, each specialising in their own field. This separation of roles however, is often riddled with problems.

  1. Impractical App Designs

An app design could look amazing on paper but could be impractical to implement in practice. App designers without any knowledge of code could come up with amazing user graphics that include sophisticated animations and complex transitions that are too difficult or time consuming to implement in code. There are factors like time to market and budget which could be affected.

2. Poor Communication

App designers and app developers come from different backgrounds. App designers are more abstract and come at things from a creative stand point. App developers are more specific and approach things from a technical perspective. Therefore, communication can get muddled leading to costly iterations in the app development process.

3. Difference of Perspective

App designers and app developers are not always able to appreciate each other’s role in the app creation process. App designers will focus on scalability and security. App designers will focus on the look and feel of an app. This difference in focus and priorities sets up potential breakdowns in collaboration. Each side ends up vying for their concerns to be addressed over the other which leads to a less than ideal app.

Learning App Design and Code

To address the problems above, app developers should learn app design and app designers should learn how to code. The idea is that both should have a “shared understanding” of each others role to get the best collaboration possible. This does not mean we should dismiss the roles of app designers or app developers and simply merge them into one. Instead, both should know enough of what the other does to work effectively. This brings us to an interesting question. How much is enough? How much code should an app designer know? And how much design should an app developer know?

How Much Code Should An App Designer Know?

Ideally, app designers should be able to develop the front end user interface of an app in code. App designers in this position are able to develop better prototypes, communicate more effectively with app developers and create app designs with a decent appreciation for the coding overhead involved. Thanks to the development of SwiftUI for iOS app development and Jet Compose for Android app development, this process is easier than ever before. In Apple’s own words:

Xcode includes intuitive design tools that make building interfaces with SwiftUI as easy as dragging and dropping.

However, this task is by no means easy. SwiftUI or Jet Compose have a learning curve. In contrast, a web app designer only needs to learn HTML, CSS and perhaps some basic Javascript. But any app designer who invests their time into learning how to build a user interface in code is a unique asset who breaks down the barriers between app design and app development. They do not need to be an expert. There will be UI components the app designer will struggle to translate into code. What matters is that the app designer has an understanding of what it means to convert an app design into code.

How Much Design Should An App Developer Know?

App developers should learn how to use app design tools like Sketch or Figma and should invest their time into learning the fundamental concepts of user experience. Learning the tools of app design is not a great learning curve. App design tools can be learnt with some reasonable effort.

It should be noted, learning an app design tool does not make an app developer an app designer. App designers are creative professionals who use app design tools to express their ideas. Creating unique and aesthetic app designs goes well beyond just learning an app design tool. Therefore, app developers do not need to be app designers; it might be beyond some app developers to effectively conceive app designs. Instead, app developers should aim to have an understanding of how the app design process works to effectively collaborate with app designers.

Conclusion

App developers should learn app design to develop highly engaging apps and to work effectively with app designers. App developers do not need to be app design experts. Where app developers work with app designers, they only need an appreciation of what goes on in app design.

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CTO at Cobbles. Native iOS Developer and Full Stack Web Developer.

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Gwinyai Nyatsoka

Gwinyai Nyatsoka

CTO at Cobbles. Native iOS Developer and Full Stack Web Developer.

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