I’m building the Super Sad app

A mile-high overview of iPhone app design

A review of The iPhone App Design Manual

My bread-and-butter work, for the longest time, has been web design. When I worked at Weather Underground, nearly all the products I worked on were web-based. As a freelancer, nearly all the startups I work with start with web-apps before moving on to native apps. Occasionally I have helped improve or redesign existing native apps, but for the most part I’ve been designing for the web. All that changed recently, and I am now working on a brand new iPhone app.

When I made this transition from web-design to app-design I wanted to do some background research and learn from experts. I know that the fundamentals of good design apply to either domain, but native apps bring their own set of possibilities and constraints. When I found the iPhone App Design Manual at my local library I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations.

The inside cover advertises that the book is….

  • “Highly practical and full of real-world examples to illustrate and inspire.”
  • “Free from technical jargon — no coding skills required — and fully up to date with iOS7.”
  • “Guides you through the entire process from a great concept to a successful marketing plan.”

The book also boasts 10 chapters worth of content, covering everything from “How are apps made?” to “User experience design” to “Preparing final artwork.” And the book attempts to cover all this content within 153 pages.

The result, unfortunately, is that the author provides a mile-high overview of every step in the process, while never covering anything in any depth.

For example, there is a section called “Designing for Gestures” that begins on page 70, and, unfortunately, also ends on page 70. The authors devote a mere 5 paragraphs to explaining why gestural interactions are important. They conclude the section with this wishy-washy suggestion:

“[S]tudy how people interact with things related to your app, and try to mimic the actions in your interactions if possible. Of course, some people develop habits which are more time-consuming than they need to be — don’t mimic those if there’s a quicker way. The key is to use the right gestures for your idea, and to do that you need to tap into the mindset of your target audience.” (p.70)

So you should watch people use apps and try to mimic those interactions with gestures. Unless it seems like they are doing something wrong, then you should do something else. Got it.

And while the book provides a graphic of the main iPhone gestures you can use (eg. tap, drag, swipe, pinch, etc.) on the next page, they don’t provide any discussion of what interactions the gestures could or should be used for.

And, as icing on the cake of my disappointment, the book advertises that there are additional resources awaiting you at www.iphoneappdesignmanual.com. But, as anyone who just clicked that link has found out, the page no longer exists. Sad times.

So if you are looking for the cliff-notes, mile-high overview of iPhone app design, this book could work for you. (It also has a lot of nice pictures to look at.) But if you are looking for something that actually provides some in-depth advice, then I think you are better off looking elsewhere.

Bookclub Discussion

  • What resources and books do you recommend for someone who is going from web-design to app-design?