50 tips for designing brilliant iOS apps

1 A touchscreen interface might be flexible and intuitive, but it’s not perfect. Consider what people are doing while they’re using your app, and how they’re holding the device. Remember that fingers cover a much greater area than you might expect, and are far from accurate at selecting items.

2 Take a device-centric approach to design: don’t just think about the size of the screen, but also where and when it will be used. The peak hours of iPad usage for entertainment purposes might be 8-11pm, before bed, whereas an iPhone might be used standing in the bus queue or in a coffee shop. Take different usage scenarios into consideration throughout the design process – including things like how far the screen will be held from users’ faces.

3 Think of your app one screen at a time. Focus on what the primary purpose of each screen should be, and then strip it back to the smallest possible number of additional options, buttons and other controls required to make that goal achievable for the user. Avoid having too much going on at once on screen, especially on a mobile device.

4 Designing for a mobile phone or tablet is very different from the web, or even a standard desktop app – every element has a fixed position on screen, which must be considered carefully. Treat this as an advantage, rather than a constraint: having fixed templates gives you tighter control over the size and placement of every element that the user will see.

5 When porting an app between different screen sizes, bear in mind that when this changes significantly – from iPhone to iPad, for instance – the way in which the device is used will also change. While the constraints of a strip an app down to its core function, when scaling it up any additional features that didn’t make the cut for the smaller screen can be included as you have more room to play with.

6 The secret to a great app icon is focus: sell what your app does clearly and transparently, but in a visually appealing way. iOS users in particular can be very picky about what icons make it onto their home screens. Always take the time to create every possible size to make sure it renders crisply wherever it’s used on the device, even the tiny version used in the System Preferences menu.

7 A finger is considerably larger and less precise than a mouse, and touch-targets on a touchscreen interface should leave ample margin for error. This forces you to simplify: never pack too many controls into one area of the screen, or too close to each other, and ensure that buttons are large enough to be selected easily. Apple recommends 44x44 points, minimum.

8 - Star tip Try to lock down the core feature set for your app as early as possible in the design process, and don’t stray from it if you can help it. This way, you can develop and refine the concept of your app – as well as its look and feel – without the confusion of adding new variables.

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