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iPhone Apps Design Mistakes: Over-Blown Visuals

The development of iPhone applications has recently become a hot topic in the design community; everybody tries to come up with some creative idea, port it into a stylish iPhone-alike application and sell it to thousands of users through the iPhone app store. However, many of these applications are poorly designed and therefore miss the chance of providing users with a truly useful product that users would find worth recommending to friends and colleagues.

We want to take a closer look at the design of iPhone applications and showcase some good and bad examples, best practices as well as useful ideas and recommendations for your next iPhone app design. This article is a first post of a new series related to the design of iPhone applications. Please let us know if you are interested in the follow-ups to this article in the poll and in the comments below. How should it look like? What should we improve? Please also feel free to suggest more iPhone app design mistakes in the comments to this post!

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

Are iPhone apps really not good enough? Link

“It’s only 99 cents. Who cares if it sucks? I’m still trying it.” How many times have you said something like that to yourself before downloading the next promising iPhone app? How many screen-fulls of those apps do you have on your iPhone? 4? 6? 10? And how many of them do you actually use?

On average, only 3% of people who have downloaded an app use it after 30 days. Why? Because the majority of iPhone apps don’t make any sense to users. The situation is similar to that of PC software a couple of decades ago. Have we not learned from our mistakes?

iPhone applications nowadays are designed by developers who seem to care only about their app’s implementation. When an app goes live, its beautiful code or visual design often fail to address real customers’ needs. The result: thousands of useless applications in the App Store that people download and use once and then never again. These applications often don’t make sense to customers because of a poor interaction design.

Free applications usage over time5
Free applications usage over time: Percentage of users returning versus number of days since first used. On second day, 20% returning users; on the 30th day, only 3%. By Pinch Media. Larger image6.

Paid applications usage over time7
Paid applications usage over time: Percentage of users returning versus number of days since first used. It’s not really different from the graph above. Paid applications generally retain their users longer than free applications, although the drop-off is still pretty steep. By Pinch Media. Larger image8.

Applications usage over time9
Users stop using the average applications pretty quickly. Long-term audiences are generally 1% of total downloads. By Pinch Media. Larger image10.

500 million iPhone Apps downloads breakdown11
Hilarious 500 million downloads breakdown12, by Gizmodo. Larger version13 (Copyright: Gizmodo)

It shouldn’t be this way. Developers should be writing applications that people love so much that they would pay $9.99 or even $99.99 for each of them. There’s no programming technique that teaches you how to do this. But there is something else, and it’s called interactive design.

Five Most Frequent iPhone Design Mistakes Link

Many applications share the same design problems that prevent customers from fully enjoying them. Recently, I conducted a review of 100 apps from the App Store and identified the five most frequent iPhone design and usability mistakes, which are:

  1. Over-blown visuals.
  2. Neglecting technological limitations, such as slow Internet connection, slow processors and single-threaded OS architectures.
  3. Confusing navigation (flow, layout and taxonomy).
  4. Confusing the iPhone with a computer. Neglecting to use new iPhone interactions (fingers instead of the mouse; multi-touch gestures; turn, tilt and rotate) and technological features such as phone functions, built-in GPS and accelerometer.
  5. Disregard of context. A lack of understanding of how, when, where and why the mobile device is being used.

Let’s start with the first one in this article and proceed with the next ones in the follow-ups to this article.

Mistake #1. Over-Blown Visuals Link

Probably the oldest, yet extremely popular design problem is overdesign. Designers of iPhone applications often tend to disregard common design and usability conventions by offering users slick and shiny user interface designs that go way beyond their standard look and also way beyond their claimed functionality.

Why make things look, feel and work complicated and why do designers like to re-invent the wheel? The answer is simple: they want the application to be different; look different and stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, a different look isn’t necessarily helpful for application’s usability and functionality.

So how does an over-design in iPhone applications look like? To better understand it, let’s look at an example:

Overdesigned iPhone app example14
Motion X GPS settings.

What do you think is wrong with the design in this first screenshot? Some of you may say, “Well, nothing is really wrong with it. It’s beautiful.” I agree, it’s pretty slick. But, there’s a catch: while beautiful, it is also inconsistent with other apps. It’s different. Let’s compare this screen to the settings screens of other iPhone applications:

Overdesigned iPhone app example15

Overdesigned iPhone app example16

Overdesigned iPhone app example17
Motion X GPS settings screen, compared to the settings screens of other apps. (Click to enlarge.)

Noticed the difference? Being inconsistent with other products makes yours worse for two reasons:

  1. Going against convention makes your application less intuitive. Over-styled controls look different and require users to re-learn how they work.
  2. It’s a waste of time and money. The resources you have spent to make your app look different, but not necessarily better, could have been used much more effectively.

Breaking Convention Makes Your App Less Intuitive Link

The more familiar the parts of your app are, the more intuitive the app will be for whoever uses it. If we recognize the parts, we will be able to learn how to use the whole faster. It’s like reading: knowing the alphabet and meanings of words allows us to “decode” books we haven’t seen before.

Here’s an example from the real world. Try to make the stop sign more “beautiful” and people will inevitably start dying:

Overdesigned iPhone app example18

Overdesigned iPhone app example19
“Sign B, 2, ‘STOP,’ shall be used to notify drivers that, at the intersection where the sign is placed, they shall stop before entering the intersection and give way to vehicles on the road they are approaching.” Article 10 of 2006 road signs convention20.

In his paper Intuitive Equals Familiar21 (Communications of the ACM. 37:9, September 1994, page 17), Jeff Raskin, an American human-computer interface expert best known for starting the Macintosh project for Apple Computer in the late 1970s, writes:

“The impression that the phrase ‘this interface feature is intuitive’ leaves is that the interface works the way the user does, that normal human ‘intuition’ suffices to use it, that neither training nor rational thought is necessary, and that it will feel ‘natural.’”


“… it is clear that a user interface feature is ‘intuitive’ insofar as it resembles or is identical to something the user has already learned. In short, “intuitive” in this context is an almost exact synonym of ‘familiar.’”

Drastically re-designing every user interface element will make your application less intuitive, which will lead to more user mistakes and a longer learning curve. Eventually, you will lose customers because of it.

What About Branding? Link

Is there place for branding in applications that are strictly following general design guidelines and usability conventions? Definitely! It is possible to strike a balance between having a unique look but not over-designing. Here’s one example:

Overdesigned iPhone app example22

Let’s take a look at an example of overdesigning by Bloomberg. Here, we have an over-designed text input field at the top. You can barely recognize this as a field when you first look at it. The version on the right hand side is much better. A standard input field makes the screen’s purpose much clearer, while remaining consistent with the application’s style and branding.

Larger version24.

Here is another example by iFitness. Users are supposed to enter their weight day by day on this screen. But you have to flip through the months and days with a horizontal swipe to find the right one, and then you have to enter your weight digit by digit using five separate scroll fields. And then you have to press the very modest “Record” button, which you miss at first anyway and only find the hard way: after you have lost data. Much better:

Larger version26.

99.9% of users will want to enter today’s weight. This redesigned interface has one-quarter of the controls. The screen space that has been saved can now be used to present useful information, such as weight statistics. Date and time can be recorded automatically, and the selection of the metric or imperial system of measurement, which is not terribly important, has been demoted to a settings screen.

The Yellow Pages app uses tabs, which work well on the Web, but standard toggle controls are more familiar to iPhone users.

Yellow Pages27
Larger version28.

Waste of Time and Money Link

Apple has already done an excellent job of creating standardized controls. Losing some of that functionality is almost guaranteed if you try to reinvent the wheel.

Back to our earlier example:

If we take a closer look, we’ll see that one-third of the screen space we would have had is now lost because of over-designing.

iPhone OS 3.0 introduced accessibility features. One of the modes is White on Black. Here’s what happens to our controls after inverting colors:

In the original control, color, shape and text survived color inversion. However in re-designed one, 2/3 of original meaning is lost. Now there is only text.

In sum, this redesign has given us twice as many UI elements, taking up twice as much real estate. The catch is, even if you haven’t made the controls worse, you still haven’t added much value and you have lost time and money in the process.

That Time and Money Could Have Been Spent On… Link

Design is all about solving problems. Sometimes, when people don’t know exactly what problem they are solving, they wander in the design process, and the result is over-designed. To avoid that, you must have a clear picture of the problem you need to solve.

One of the best ways to get that picture is to talk to your users (both current and potential). Only when you know your customers’ needs will you be able to build an application they’ll love.

Don’t overdesign. Be sure your house has a solid foundation before you decorate it. You will be rewarded with more loyal customers and higher download rates surprisingly quickly.

(Hopefully) coming soon: #2 iPhone’s Technological Limitations. What Apple hasn’t told you.

Would you like to read a follow-up to this article? Link

Please let us know if you are interested in the follow-ups for this article in this poll and in the comments below. Did you like this post? What would you like to change? What should we improve? Please also feel free to suggest more iPhone app design mistakes in the comments to this post!

<br /> <a href=”” mce_href=””>Would you like to read the follow-up to this article?</a><span style=”font-size:9px;” mce_style=”font-size:9px;”>(<a href=”” mce_href=””>surveys</a>)</span><br />

Footnotes Link

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Alex is a mobile Product and UX Designer. He is a co-founder at Minimum — a nimble app design and development studio, and a product designer at Chat Center.

Follow @akomarov on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Over-designed is a description that sits uneasily with me. It reminds me of those that described Mozart’s music as having “too many notes”.

    It’s inconsistent with other iPhone app designs… different. Oh no! We can’t have that! If we’re talking familiarity with interface elements, it’s a couple of years of iPhone apps versus, in this case, what.. 70 years of plastic push-buttons and toggle switches? Looking at this app in more detail, it seems to want to mimic to feel of rugged piece of outdoor equipment, all buttons and dials. It’s a stylistic choice. It’s self-consistent throughout and consistent with it’s theme.

    ‘Rochelle Dancel’ above said: “it is an absolute waste of time and money if you create something very beautiful that no one can use (in this case, anyway!).” Really? No one can use this? It looks fairly simple to me. I can wrap my brain around something that isn’t default grey and blue, and so can most people – most real people, ie. non-ux designers and the ux designers who happen to apply common sense to the seemingly increasingly indoctrinated belief in the idiocy of all end users. Too often, different is automatically wrong and dangerously so, not just… different. Dismissing this bad example of the point, ie. an interface that is, despite it’s evil differentness, actually pretty simple and visually intuitive, without thought of it’s own design context is narrowminded.

    Forget the word over-designed. How about dogma. How about another word: homogeneity. And another: over-simplification. And a phrase: lacking imagination. One last word: boring.

  2. 2

    Wow, very nice article as usual. Have not seen this type of article yet. Maybe this will help with all of the over designed iPhone apps.

  3. 3

    Great tips, thank you!

  4. 4

    Rochelle Dancel

    July 21, 2009 2:38 pm

    Nice article!

    Completely agree – it is an absolute waste of time and money if you create something very beautiful that no one can use (in this case, anyway!).

    I wonder if the same thing will happen when more are aps are made available for the Blackberry.

  5. 5

    Yes, only 3% uses Motion X GPS after 30 days because of its visuals, not because it’s marginally useful to begin with.

    I kind of see where the article is coming from, but I don’t see alot of it really applicable to success in this marketspace – Motion X will do as badly with a simpler design, and the Yellow Pages will do just as well with tabs instead of making it look like a native app.

    E.g. content, content, content. Most apps probably only have 3% original users after 30 days because they weren’t much to use to begin with.

    I’d blame the general quality of apps and ideas before I’d delve further. I’d even go as far as to say that the app store and its monetary promises brings the worst out of many developers.

  6. 6

    This is great!
    What should we do about games then? Where it’s either harder to use standard controls because of using OpenGL or where it’s all about fun and standard controls aren’t that fun-)

    And also: the purpose of most of the apps is to make people buy them, not necessarily stay with them for long. So screenshots have to be prettyfied as much as possible.

    I know it’s not right, but this is where reality goes.

  7. 8

    Benjamin A. Wendelboe

    July 21, 2009 2:54 pm

    Great points, and I couldn’t agree more!

  8. 9

    Carlos Marin

    July 21, 2009 3:08 pm

    Excellent article: so true about standard controls.

    The “Whoa” road sign made me laugh.

  9. 10

    Nice article. Highlights the importance of usability in control design.. something that’s often overlooked in the web design world.

  10. 11

    reading on iphone and dont see images

  11. 12

    From my experience I can say that there’re many iPhone devs out there right now (me including), who wish some help from designers. Because only few devs can design. What a great world it would be if we could work hand in hand. What a great apps would come out… :-)

  12. 13

    George Egonut

    July 21, 2009 3:25 pm

    Great article, and I’m looking forward to reading more in this new series. Also, can we get a series devoted to webOS dev, or perhaps mobile app dev in general? There’s certainly a separate but related set of issues that must be taken into account for all movile development, and I think we’re going to see a huge rush of developers making apps for the Palm Pre, since webOS uses HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

  13. 14

    Excellent! Thank you.

    Hopefully developers will read and understand…

  14. 15

    excellent as always, i really enjoy this original post
    no more collections, this are origian and useful posts


  15. 16

    Alexander, nice article, but the figures at the beginning do not show anything about the quality of the apps in my opinion. They show what the iPhone really is: A pure fun device that has nothing to offer for creative people like designers, coders, writers of love poems, makers of music etc. what they couldn’t do much better with a piece of paper. Besides the phone and the music function nothing will be used longer than a short period of time, even if a apps were wonderful.

    • 17
    • 18

      I have some apps I use a lot since years: So there is serious usage possible, – if they are well designed, readable, with scalable text, and not otherwise annoying.
      But these are just an extra on a fun device for kids.
      “If kids can do it, I can do it” – hopefully better.

  16. 19

    I know it is convention but I find those on/off switches very confusing.

    The switch is a bit grayed out and reads “off” so does that mean toggling the switch turns it off or its off right now. (I know the answer – the switch off. The text is representing current state and not future functionality – just like all the other standard ui elements.) Maybe its just me but I always have to think about it for a sec.

  17. 20

    Ian Storm Taylor

    July 21, 2009 4:23 pm

    I uninstall apps or move apps to the very back screen when they have ugly icons. People need to put a little effort into matching the style setup by all of the other icons on the iPhone. It’s like having a different icon style for every folder and document type on your computer… its annoying!

    Even if an app has nice functionality, it won’t go on my home screen is it doesn’t have a nicely matching icon. And I keep a different version of the RSS reader than they one I use on my home screen because it looks so sexy.

  18. 21

    Ian that’s pretty much the only reason I jailbreak my phone, ability to customize the look and feel of the phone to make things more consistent. The Matte UI theme gives you quite a standard look, and has over 2000 icons available for it.

  19. 22

    Dusan Vlahovic

    July 21, 2009 5:16 pm

    Good article, looking forward for the next ones!

  20. 23

    Jason Swartz

    July 21, 2009 5:32 pm

    Excellent review with really helpful visuals, I can’t wait to send this out.

  21. 24

    Awsome! I want more :P

  22. 25

    I wonder how the designers at Motion X GPS feel.

    Or is Alexander Komarov their designer?

    Bad sarcasm in this comment? Yes.

  23. 26

    Alex Komarov

    July 21, 2009 7:54 pm

    First of all, thanks to everyone who left their opinions, I really appreciate your input!
    I am gonna try to address some of the comments.
    To: Xipe
    I couldn’t agree more with you, the general quality of the app as well as the idea are the key factors. The only thing is: that’s pretty much all we can say. It’s like saying “it’s important for the car to run fast and look cool”: we get it, we agree with it, but such statements are not very specific and, we can’t actually learn much from understanding these basic facts.
    I strongly believe that careful analysis of how engine works how wheels spin and how gears shift can yield much more results which can be actually transformed into design decisions then just stating: “We need better cars.”
    That’s why I started writing these articles, hope they help. =)

    To: Mark S.
    I think it’s ok to use all kinds of weird controls in games because the game itself is usually a big not standard and not very intuitive user interface — that’s what makes game fun to play. If you would try to make game “user friendly” — Mario would just go straight to the princesses palace — there wouldn’t be any obstacles and enemies and the game would end in less then 1 minute. Ha-ha =)

    To Helen: Thanks for your comment. The fact that iPhone
    has nothing to offer for creative people like designers, coders etc means that the quality of iPhone apps sucks at the moment. (Hopefully not for long.) That’s exactly my point — applications can now be used just for fun because most of them are no use at all.

  24. 27

    The article’s main crux seems to be that design needs to be considered but that usability carries more weight than design. This is a great point; however, the app you used did not support that point. The app you used as an example of bad practice is more logically arranged than most of the “similar” apps you used. If I had an iPhone, I would have found your example app’s interface more logical than some of the other samples.

    Actually, as a non-iPhone user, the only app pictured above which seems more user-friendly to me than that target app is the one pictured under the U.S. stop sign.

    Also, I would point out that if every app has the same color scheme and appearance that that would actually hinder smooth user interface. If each app has a slightly different look, then users can identify it at a glance. If all the interfaces look the same, users who open an app and come back will hve to re-figure out what they were going to do.

    Your article makes some interesting and valid points; however, I am not sold on the presiding thesis.

  25. 28

    Thanks for this good article

  26. 29

    This your thesis was correct the notes app would look like the mail app.

    Apple themselves break their own conventions all the time. This OS defined L&F snobbery has never actually existed on any platform so stop snowing yourself and us.

  27. 30

    I would pay extra to get motion x with iphone default gui.

  28. 31

    pretty obvious stuff all round… you’ve taken a design example that is pretty crap anyway and calling it slick is far from the truth.

  29. 32

    Awful article.

    You’re confusing style choices with workflow. They go hand in hand, but are not the same thing. The essence of the article seems to be to not use custom buttons and UI widgets, because you’ll waste too much time and money developing them and users won’t like them, or they’ll be confused.

    You really couldn’t be more wrong.

    iPhone users love well designed apps that use custom elements. They also love well designed apps that use standard elements too, but if you think creating a custom UI is a bad choice, then you clearly haven’t been watching the App Store charts very closely.

    As others have mentioned, Apple break away from their own vanilla UI elements all the time. That’s a good thing. The iPhone would be a very unexciting device if the entire experience was white boxes over a blue pinstripe background.

    Also worth noting: your “Back to normal” version of iFitness’s UI uses a non-standard picker. Why is this important? Because it would be a very difficult element to replicate (a “Waste of Time and Money” in your words). So one of your examples on how to “fix” something would create the exact situation you’re warning against.

    I don’t mean to offend, but I don’t think the author has been involved in designing many iPhone apps, if any. There’s several other glaring issues with the article, but in the spirit of being nice, I won’t pick them apart.

  30. 33

    I strongly disagree.
    If you wanna go with the sheeps, make everything like the masses do and your work will never be noticed.
    It’s the difference what makes you special not winning a lookalike contest.

  31. 34

    Seems like somebody is mixing up the design culture now… well done. That is why Apple does not allow JAVA: The layout of java apps would totally destroy the beautiness of the standards. Hope we get more of that.

  32. 35

    I agree, it’s pretty slick. But, there’s a catch: while beautiful, it is also inconsistent with other apps. It’s different.

    While I don’t find that design beautiful, it has his own style , which makes it different from other apps. I agree with that , and I don’t get yr point.
    All apps should have the same look and feel according to you?
    Are iPhones users so stupid that they can’t use something different? ;)

    not to mention you refers to the settings window in the app, not the app itself.

    I use some music apps (beatmaker , the soon to be released Star6… ) and these applications while being super original design wise (especially Star6 ) works great and don’t confuse me (oh I have to touch instead of sliding, how confusing!)

  33. 36

    Great article. Would love to read some more tips and tricks for User-Interface-Design! You never stop learning …

    Best regards from bonn, germany,

  34. 37

    Synapse Syndrome

    July 21, 2009 11:51 pm

    If you were trying to convince developers to make every app look really homogenised and bland, so it would not confuse all these users (who must be retarded, right?), you should have picked a much better example, as the one you used is a good case for the opposite argument.

    It may not use the standard widgets (which are good for developers that cannot be bothered to spend time making a clear and easy to use interface) but that one works well, and looks really good. It makes it look like your iPod has turned into a real little plastic wireless network finder. It’s actually a great example of how well a bespoke interface can be made on the iPod!

  35. 38

    Excellent article Alexander!

    Building and launching our first app is our next major hurdle… with articles like this, we can do it right first time and not make the same expensive mistakes as some other firms have done.

  36. 39

    Great article.
    My own opinion, as a iPhone user, is that 60% of the apps aren’t that great and focus on great visuals and not so great functionality or features.

    I count by the fingers of my hands the apps that have really great use with great functionality and features.

  37. 40

    Thank you very much for this informative post. I’m in the process of making a iPhone design and it helps me a lot. Cheers!

  38. 41

    I agree and disagree at the same time. I do find it very annoying when something is ‘over’ designed as you put it but I think there’s a big difference between over design and an alternative style.

    Look at a PC or Mac for instance the OS should be consistent across the board that’s a given but the third party applications and software have their own style which isn’t a bad thing, and here’s why;

    The application may not be as intuitive if it follows exactly the same interface especially for complex applications which is why if there is a reason, a reason that will benefit the user and not one just to steer away from the standard interface ofr the sake of being different or for branding then it’s ok to do so.

    It’s also a bit boring to have the same experience with every app you use, a bit of well thought out variety can be good to give the user choice and give them a slightly different and dare I say it improved experience.

  39. 42

    Martin Polley

    July 22, 2009 1:10 am

    @Tom: Good point. But there’s a difference between being different just for the sake of being different and being different as a result of trying to be better. Or as Dieter Rams put it:

    Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.”

  40. 43

    “Try to make the stop sign more “beautiful” and people will inevitably start dying”
    true, really.

  41. 44

    I agree with Antony – I also dislike ‘overdesigned’ interfaces. But in most of the cases the author here doesn’t mean ‘overdesigned’, but ‘other than normal’. I feel fine, if developers use their custom controls and a unique look and feel. Having all iPhone apps looking the same would be *really* boring…

    The STOP-sign is a bad example, because this is an international convention – an ON/OFF-toggle is not (nor are other controls)!

    If Apple would have followed these design tips, we would have never gotten an iPhone, but another nitty-gritty colored MP3-player with telephony option and default keyboard…

    Conclusion: Overdesigning is wrong – Boring too ;-)

  42. 45

    Could it be that the declining use of apps over time has more to do with the fact that the iPhone is ultimately an expensive toy, that exists not so much to fulfill a “need” as to satisfy our never-ceasing technolust?

    How many owners of an iPhone ponder the “business case” for having one before they buy? In my experience most people who have an iPhone have merely succombed to the fetish of the shiny gadget.

  43. 46

    keep on posting! you have definitely something to say!
    keep on going!


  44. 47

    I would agree with almost everything in this very well written and thought out article!

    However, I dont believe iPhone users are are different species. We should remember people use dozens of websites a day and adapt without any problems to varying styles of navigation.

    For instance, I prefered the YellowPages “overdesigned” version of the app as I believe it to be a clear indication of what page is being looked at.

  45. 48

    A prime example of “overdesign” is Tapbots Convertbot – gorgeous design but overcomplicated and the usability is awful. I see the iPhone as a tool that you should be able to pick up and use an app without having to read the instructions, not having to decipher (admittedly pretty) alternative interfaces & mystery icons. Twiterrific being a case in point.

    More articles like this please SmashingMag!

  46. 49

    Thanks for the enlightening article. It makes great sense for iPhone App developers and designers to go with a standardized UI. Especially for us folks us who’d rather get through to the subject matter of their newly purchased app. We want to be amazed at how it works not work to see it amaze us. As iPhone users, who isn’t still jacked about the GPS and accelerometer incorporated in a fun/useful app.

    Which brings me to my one nit about this article. Sometimes good UI will only get you so far. In our collective minds I think we’d agree that content and subject are just as important. “Design is a good idea” as much as design is good UI and taste. I found that very few iPhone apps go beyond the one good instance of it use.

    I’d raise my hand to have one of Smashing Magazine brilliant editors to tackle the subject next. All the best to you.


  47. 50

    This is very timely! We are in the middle of working on the design of an iphone app right now for I will share this article with the design team right now. Please keep me updated.


  48. 51

    “The more familiar the parts of your app are, the more intuitive the app will be for whoever uses it.”

    That the assumption taken here appears to be that users of this application are very familiar with the iPhone’s interface. Although this is a reasonable assumption, the designers at Motion X GPS may have taken the approach that the user does not need this knowledge to operate their application. For example, if a switch in a setting panel looks like a commonly used switch that your users see in reality, they understand its use intuitively and require no further learning. If the user isn’t familiar with the iPhone’s minimalist interpretation of a switch, then they may be at a disadvantage.

    The over-all design approach from Motion X GPS appears to be based on affordance, or object-based design – they use concepts that users are familiar with in real life so they are able to intuitively use the application. They have chosen not to continue the interface metaphors as chosen by Apple, in favor of the more widely understood methods of interaction as found in reality.

    “The more familiar the parts of your app are, the more intuitive the app will be for whoever uses it.”

    The core idea behind affordance and building intuitive interfaces based on metaphors (such as switches) is that the user is familiar with these concepts in real life. An ‘intuitive’ interface is not referring to something the user is able to use without learning, but is referring to an interface that the user already understands (in other words, something the user has already learned). This is accomplished by using metaphors such as the switch, the button, a light that switches on for ‘active’ and off for ‘inactive’, etc. Although the argument that consistency of interaction is an important and valid one, I can’t help but feel it has been taken to an extreme in this article.

    My personal reaction to the Motion X GPS interface is that the user is able to use the application without prior understanding of Apple’s iPhone interface, or any other guidelines of interface, as the app has chosen to present its settings panel in a way that most can understand without additional learning (as long as they are familiar with the concepts of switches and status lights). If the designers had taken an abstract or surreal approach then I think that heavy criticism is justified. In this case, the application seems to be based on a solid design that the majority of users will find easy to use.

    What is definitely a strong criticism is the lack of support for users with impairments using this interface.

  49. 52

    Shane - Inspiring Your Success

    July 22, 2009 4:39 am

    I am a blackberry user however this article is extremely interesting, I wonder if you could do a similar article for the Blackberries? I use a pearl but it would be interesting to contrast this with a Storm.

  50. 53

    You quoted Jeff Raskin as writing “… it is clear that a user interface feature is ‘intuitive’ insofar as it resembles or is identical to something the user has already learned …”

    Contrary to your opinion, I think that the (Motion X GPS) switch in your first iPhone example resembles something that the user has already learned! There are also plenty of affordances, constraints and feedback for better usability.

    Going against convention usually has its pitfalls; but out of all of Apple’s UI Kit controls, I think the switches are the most confusing and not as familiar. Do you have any usability tests to back up your points? I didn’t see any in this article.

    Usability tests would be the real evidence behind your thesis. Take the first example (Motion X GPS) and do usability tests on it. Then re-design the app with conventional controls from Apple and perform usability tests. I’d like to see that data!

    You may find that Motion X GPS is more emotionally appealing to users than an application with standard controls. The level of appeal for end-users is especially important for apps that people carry around with them everywhere.

    I’m happy to see an article on SM about iPhone design, but this could have better evidence in my opinion.

  51. 54

    Michael Ward

    July 22, 2009 5:24 am

    Why do people rebutt an argunment by taking some of its points then extending them to rediculous lengths?

    The point here is quite simple:

    a) Native controls are easy for people to understand. They’re well designed and act like other native controls. This means that people don’t need to learn how to use the control, therefore they can get straight to learning how to use the app. If a native can do what you need then why use anything else?

    b) Sometimes an app does need to use a non-native control. Why? Because it needs functionality that isn’t provided by the default control and can’t be retro-fitted. Or maybe the app demands a custom look and feel.

    To sum up: Consider very carefully if you should use non-native controls. A lot of work has gone in to the native controls, they provide a lot of functionality and will always match-up with the behaviour of other native controls – are the benefits of your custom controls worth the extra effor for you and your users?

  52. 55

    Usability and Navigability are the most important thing in my opinion, BUT, I think the article exagerated about some designs. For example, switch a button for a tab, it´s not necessarily overdesign, because people are used to tabs and how it works.

    I think it was a little over critical! =)

    But in general, is a good article for bring up an important issue: Usability.

  53. 56

    Completely agree (apart from the overdesign on the tabs I liked them) just designed my first iphone app. Found this helpful thanks. Skill in simplicity is key

  54. 57

    yes, except for the fact motionX GPS is one of the best apps for the iphone…
    amazing value, constant updates, i can’t complain about it.

  55. 58

    Great Article!
    Usability / Design tips its a really interesting subject!

    Best regards from Brazil!

  56. 59

    The tabs have a visual indication that their purpose is to switch the content below it. If you make it just a toggle, you lose that indication.

    I do like what you did with the weight entry interface, though.

  57. 60

    About time someone went in to details about designing for iphones apps…thank you

  58. 61

    Very subjective article. writer gotta do some survey before writing this. I dont think most think that overdesign can be a annoying for the user. There are many over design apps that is popular. It is all about UI and content layout that go in harmony. You just happen to like it plain and boring.

  59. 62

    Nice article. We can also use this for web apps.

  60. 63

    There are a few problems with the app store and none of them have to do with usability.

    * “Top Sellers” are calculated by units sold, not revenue. So, there is a benefit to reducing prices to price tier 1. (i.e. 99 cents in US) Lower prices, means its harder to make money with each title, which encourages simple/joke/novelty apps that don’t have a long life-span.
    * Users cannot “try before they buy”. That means that the icon, description, screenshots and reviews are the only tools that developers have to sell their apps. Using default controls looks boring (and lazy) and are not a way to create an amazing screenshot.

    Usability is a nice-to-have feature – not essential. If the app is a stupid idea or poorly implemented, then a nice interface is not going to help. If the app is amazing, then most people can live with a crappy interface.

  61. 64

    Scott Andrew

    July 22, 2009 7:33 am

    Great article…

    Someone asked about games. Games are a different beast. The UI’s look and feel needs to fit the game. But at the same time the useage need to make sense.

    There are some custom UIs that work nice and fit their model, but there are others that are over kill. i wouldn’t say its a waste of time, I think it just depends on the type of app. The UI should fit the app’s function.

    Good custom UIs are ETrade (the dash board could use a bit of work) & FourTrack. A great use of standard, but branded, UI is Barnes & Noble.

  62. 65

    Alex Komarov

    July 22, 2009 7:33 am

    Thanks for keeping responding guys. Here are some more answers to your comments.

    To: Konstantin
    >From my experience I can say that there’re many
    >iPhone devs out there right now (me including),
    >who wish some help from designers.

    AK – What are you waiting for — contact us right away and we will get you some designers’ help =)

    To: Tom
    AK – You have a very good point that people are used to plastic push-buttons and toggle switches. However — these on iPhone aren’t exactly plastic — they are digital and they are not necessarily easy to use just because they look similar and mimic the real world controls

    You wrote:
    > …Really? No one can use this? It looks fairly simple to me.
    > I can wrap my brain around something that isn’t
    > default grey and blue, and so can most people – most real people,

    This is pretty much theory and self-referencing Tom. I am coming from the web IxD and I did my share of user interviews and usability tests — I know for sure only that we can’t know for sure what is happening in the user’s head.
    The main point of this article is not “don’t make your apps beautiful and different”.
    I was trying to say that “design is great, but sometimes instead of painting the corpse it’s better to spend your time on something more useful. Especially because such painting may make your UI harder to understand. Or may not, but it’s usually a waste of time anyways.”

    To: David
    > If each app has a slightly different look,
    > then users can identify it at a glance.
    > If all the interfaces look the same, users who open
    > an app and come back will hve to re-figure out
    > what they were going to do.

    Couldn’t agree more with you David — good point. Each application should have it’s own motif, but sometimes you want to have controls look the same so users instantly know how to use them.
    It’s like: you have cars with different bodies and engines but the steering wheel and brake pedal look pretty much the same everywhere.

  63. 66

    Alex Komarov

    July 22, 2009 7:54 am

    Some more answers.

    To: redfood

    > The switch is a bit grayed out and reads “off”
    > so does that mean toggling the switch turns it off or its off right now.

    That’s the biggest downside of the toggle control on the iPhone and almost any play/pause button in multimedia players.
    With russian fellow-designers we were trying to explore this issue
    here’s the discussion (in russian, but there are lots of images and examples — so it’s worth seeing)

  64. 67

    Alex Komarov

    July 22, 2009 8:10 am

    To: Alexis
    > I wonder how the designers at Motion X GPS feel.
    > Or is Alexander Komarov their designer?

    I am not, but I am gonna write them and offer my help, we will see =)

    To: VM
    > I would pay extra to get motion x with iphone default gui.
    They will hire me you will get it, promise.

    To: justin
    > you’ve taken a design example that is pretty crap anyway
    Maybe it is, but it’s been in the top 10 apps in the AppStore — that means that majority of the other apps are even worse.

    To: Gary
    Thanks for your critique that’s means a lot to me that you have spent time and provided itemized and constructive feedback. Please, pick apart other issues with the article if you have time.
    Some notes:
    > if you think creating a custom UI is a bad choice,
    > then you clearly haven’t been watching the App Store charts very closely.

    My point is slightly different:
    Creating custom UI — yes
    Disguising common controls — no.

    > your “Back to normal” version of iFitness’s UI uses a non-standard picker
    It’s not a date picker it’s just a scrollable list.

  65. 68

    The marketplace for mobile devices has been driven largely by aesthetics. It is not surprising (nor inherently bad) that aesthetics should be a major selling point for mobile apps.

    I agree generally about following usability conventions, and I know that marketing interests (wanting to “stand out” in order to sell more apps) often conflict with good UX (wanting buyers to keep using your app, so they’ll want to buy your next one).

    I tend to think that if buyers are responding to aesthetics, and the hope of getting many buyers is bringing more developers to the table, then pushing against conventions will be a long-term net benefit in terms of innovation, even if usability suffers somewhat in near term.

  66. 69

    Chris Cavallucci

    July 22, 2009 11:11 am

    Thanks for a good article.
    If you can change the Pinch Media graphs so the y-axes are on the same scale, we would be better able to compare the paid vs free usage over time data.

    In future follow-up articles, I’ll be looking forward to how you might underscore the importance of great interaction design and possibly demonstrate/animate state transitions in the gestural, multi-touch interface.

    For readers who are looking for the iPhone development resources
    See Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for more information
    [sorry, but you will need a developer account to view the guides]

    For iPhone app prototyping
    Check out ProtoShare. It helped be build an iPhone prototype very quickly.

  67. 70

    Great article / bad example !

    Motionx GPS is one of my favorite app !
    I use it quite often. But you’re right about it’s UI.

  68. 71

    In general its an good article, but your definitely missing the boat on a couple of items here.It is not bad to use your custom UI controls. But you have to do it carefully.

    In the case of Motionx GPS the design is solid and works. So it is not a bad case. But you do have a point here, the usage of the application doesn’t require custom elements. But the design stil is solid. Only the idea behind it lags points.

    Next, as you can see in the stockfinder example the custom UI controls are bad, and doesn’t do the job required. So in that case the apple controls are the better choice. Same goes for the iFintess interface. Original controls are just plain crap, they are confusing, and take just far more time to input the data than the standard controls. so no argument here that standard controls are the better option.
    But the yellow pages app improves the flow of the program because tabs are the obvious choise for that kind of content splitting. And work better than the apple controles. Even though the controls are different than normal, they work in that situation. So YES the yellow pages is a good example of the right way of using custom UI controls.

    My point here is that you should be second guessing yourself before designing custom UI controles. But forcing yourself to use standards all the time is not the best option either. Than the chances are that you make your apps boring and still loose users, custom UI can challenge, inspire or excite them to use your app.

    It all about the balance! The standard controls are designed to work in many kind of situations. But if your situation needs something that is better done by something custom. I just say go for it.
    But remember, It has to be better that standard. Not just different, but Better!

  69. 72

    It’s not a date picker it’s just a scrollable list.

    I actually said “your “Back to normal” version of iFitness’s UI uses a non-standard picker”, which is true. There’s no way to accomplish what you’ve designed using UIPickerView or UIDatePicker, so you’d have to build it using custom parts. You’ve also made it look partially like a UIPickerView, but not quite. You’ve broken all the rules you’re trying to get people to adhere too—you’ve created a custom element for something that’s well catered for by UIKit already.

    99.9% of users will want to enter today’s weight.

    …if you’d stuck to the UIDatePicker, you could have actually let the user edit any day. So while I agree that iFitness’s UI leaves a lot to be desired, your solution seems almost as bad.

    On average, only 3% of people who have downloaded an app use it after 30 days. Why? Because the majority of iPhone apps don’t make any sense to users.

    I don’t believe your claim is true and you don’t provide any evidence to back it up. It’s not because the apps don’t make any sense to users, I believe it’s generally because apps have a single purpose that’s not overly compelling, or because the app is of poor quality overall.

    Keep in mind that there’s also quite a few event-specific apps. Those apps have a limited life span.

    There’s also many apps that buck the trend. I have several apps that have a permanent place on my iPhone and are used daily. We’ve found that a lot of our users do the same with our apps.

    iPhone applications nowadays are designed by developers who seem to care only about their app’s implementation. When an app goes live, its beautiful code or visual design often fail to address real customers’ needs.

    A HUGE generalisation that you state as fact, with no evidence to back up your claim.

    With such a large range of developers on the platform, and an even greater range in application quality, I don’t see how your claim could ever been seen as valid or accurate.

    Disguising common controls — no.

    You have used UISwitch as your example in this article. Traditionally this would have been represented as a check box on desktop applications and websites. So there’s only a very, very limited history of using a switch and the history is mostly limited to the iPhone.

    Users are far more familiar with a check box.

    You really couldn’t have chosen a worse example.

    Over-blown visuals

    You keep referencing “overdesign” and “Over-blown visuals” in your article. What you fail to see is that spending time on the style, colour and custom UI elements is related, but not mutually exclusive to good UI practices and workflow. You can have both.

    If you’d like, I’ll continue. As I said earlier, I don’t really want to be nasty about the article. I think I get what you’re trying to say, but you’ve picked some very, very bad examples and you show a lack of understanding of the iPhone’s SDK and mobile app development in general.

    I appreciate your time on this and I don’t want to cause you any harm or distress.

  70. 73

    Nils Rasmusson

    July 22, 2009 7:51 pm

    Although I agree that over styling and breaking convention has its downsides, I disagree that the app in this example is overdone. Is it actually difficult for anybody to understand how to flip the on/off switch? Or how to press a button that is not depressed? It’s all pretty clear if you ask me. I have used lots of apps on my iPod touch and the ones that aren’t well designed are those that expect you be able to touch a tiny area on the screen or areas with poor contrast. Convention is fine but let’s not confine ourselves to it for the sake of convention. I say kudos to the designer of the skin of this “bad example” app. Well done.

  71. 74


    Very helpful.

  72. 75

    Following these tips will lead to boring and bland apps, suitable for someplace like TemplateMonster. No offense, but this author does not understand the App Store market. Case in point: Convertbot does not follow any Apple UI design guidelines yet is hugely popular and well regarded for its innovative style.

    Please, Smashing Magazine, app developers could use with some design help but from authors who understand this unique and emerging marketplace.

  73. 76

    Michael Mogill

    July 23, 2009 5:42 am

    Excellent UX overview! Very well done guys!

  74. 77

    This boils down to one problem and that is Respecting the Environment in which you are Designing.

    A certain level of empathy is needed on behalf of the designer to understand what environment (and paradigm of thought) in which the end-user is interacting with the product. Keeping that respect and empathy would tell you to keep a consistent flow with that environment. In this case, using familiar elements the user is used to interacting with.

    Now, some people might see that as ‘No Personality,’ and those people are typically the ones who suck that worst at design. This is where real creativity is exercised to reach that intersection of creative design and an ultimately usable interface.

  75. 78

    You mouth-breathers need to look at things subjectively from time to time instead of agreeing with everything someone on Smashing posts. What a bunch of useless comments “good article”, “wow great article”, “Very helpful.” /mini-rant

    Anyways, I don’t think this was a very good example. I like the tactile feel of that GPS app, you’d have to be an idiot to be confused by the interface. It’s much more simple and user friendly than the standard blue/white apple theme. Sure it’s inconsistent with other apple setting pages, but why should it match? It’s not MADE by Apple.

  76. 79

    I had a good laugh at some of this mostly the comparison shots. Why not compare other GPS app interfaces to the one you considered overdone? The only problem with it is it’s too beveled for some of the elements, not flat enough with improper light direction angles for the style used.
    The Bloomberg “bad design” is far more efficient than the “good” design. Really do you need the curved bumped out corners instead of a easily visible margin and right pointing arrow for the ui field? It maintains the overall flat styled consistency of the app with it.
    Yellow pages it’s the same thing just instead of bumping them together they put a 10-15px spacer between them and recolored it.
    Weight one, can’t say not vain enough to worry about my weight that it needs to be entered into a app.

    I’ll go off and say I’d suppose you hate the tweetdeck interface as you’d probably consider it “overdone” also compared to the bland unimaginative looking ones of twitter clients others right? It’s one I can think of off the top of my head compared to something you consider “good” flat blue on white with standardized widgets for the UI?

    If you want your app to stand out in the crowd you make it different, not bland standard. People customize their cars, their motorcycles, their PC’s because they don’t like bland standard. Sorry Mac’ers your not invited. So you make the user think as long as the interface is easy, surprisingly most will understand it and go “ok that’s a good app I’ll use it again instead of just deleting it.”

    There are probably a 1k+ of useless apps because they are just that useless. How many flashlights, levels, lighters useless such and such test apps are needed? Wonder why the review time takes so long? They are probably flooded with useless standard looking apps from developers “consulted” by people such as yourself.

    Standard UIkit widgets have their place but they shouldn’t be the main focus and are probably a sign of a rushed out gotta make a quick buck app anyways.

  77. 80

    IMO, Motion GPS X is ONE of the best “visuals” UI out there. It visualize a rugged device as a GPS. very nice, not over-blown. And very easy to navigate while I’m driving.

    This article is good, very informative and useful, but putting Motion GPS X as over-blown visual is rather inappropriate. Imagine it being standard Apple’s UI, it would feel cheap, boring and un-intuitive.

    Please take a good look at many badly simple “TODOs app”, zillion fart apps, expensive (now cheap) MBA degree apps. Now that is very poorly made apps.

    Not to mention games that put “buy full version” button bigger than necessary so my daughter can accidentally buy Dinner Dash.

    Overblown-visuals? try CoolIris.

  78. 81

    David Millar

    July 25, 2009 12:54 pm

    Loved the article – especially the before and after screen captures. The only disagreement I had was that I think the Yellow Pages app looks fine – the tabs aren’t really a big deal to me.

    I’d love to see a follow-up – possibly with a step-by-step redesign/mockup of the Motion X GPS GUI, and maybe some mention of iPhone/iPod Touch oriented web applications.

    As for rahady’s comment above, I fail to see how sticking out like a sore thumb can be good as far as navigating using the app. And one look at CoolIris shows that it’s an excellently designed app which follows a lot of the design elements in standard iPod Touch and iPhone apps. Maybe your opinion is way different from others, but I think you might be a bit biased for some unknown reason. (Plus it takes several clicks and a password to buy apps.)

  79. 82

    As we all know designing iPhone applications, have constraints where we have to follow Apple’s defaults.
    You wrote
    “… more familiar to iPhone users…”
    I would like to know the level of this “familiarity” you are talking about. I am not sure you are suggesting whether we should follow Apple’s look to match up our application functions or familiarity within our lives. (e.g. web, online interactions etc.) We struggle to design applications with concepts that will stand out among hundreds of other applications. Depending on the application, designers obviously try to translate the concept visually. “Familiarity” is not following Apple’s design. The challenge for designers is all about contexts, which includes iPhone’s constraints.

  80. 83

    This article is absolutely rubbish.
    Even apple’s own apps (calculator, weather, stocks, notes) breaks UI consistency. Calculator app looks like a real calculator, it uses custom controls, it has completely different UI elements than the standard ones, different fonts, etc.

  81. 84

    You mouth-breathers need to look at things subjectively from time to time instead of agreeing with everything someone on Smashing posts. What a bunch of useless comments “good article”, “wow great article”, “Very helpful.” /mini-rant
    matt (July 23rd, 2009, 4:24 pm)

    You can agree with the whole article, parts of the article, none of the article or do not have a fully formed opinion as you may not have given it much thought.

    But you can’t deny that its sparked great debate and very informative viewpoints from all angles….which in my opinion justify it as “good”, “great” and yes…. “helpful”.

  82. 85

    I strongly disagree with the author.

    Why would you want to make all apps look the same? You might as well say that all web sites should look like, or the only colors that should be used in apps are white backgrounds, grey text, and blue accents.

    If you have the skill or resources to design something cool, then DO IT!!

    I think the MotionX app is beautiful, distinct, and functional. I hope that app developers continue thinking outside the box. The Apple designers are brilliant but they are not the only people in the world with good ideas!

  83. 86

    I’ve lived in Canada my entire life and I’ve yet to see a stop sign that sets “Arret”

  84. 87

    I agree w/ Jay [#81]

  85. 88


    August 3, 2009 5:21 pm

    I *completely* agree with Gary of post #69.

    He eloquently debunked the author’s rather stretching argument on every point.

  86. 89

    I think the motionX app its great and i use it all the time on my bike (paid version) – i do agree the interface is a little over designed but i don’t think it hinders it too much.

    I buy a lot of apps on the iPhone and i do find that some are ported across from other platforms and not much time is spent making them usable with a mobile device.

  87. 90

    A brilliant article, reaffirms a lot of my beliefs for design. Looking forward to the follow up!

  88. 91

    I’d love a follow-up with examples of other systems, this isn’t an issue limited to iPhones and one not doocumented nearly enough!

  89. 92

    Imagine if that thought had ruled in the 90’s during initial website development. We’d all be looking at a basic html template for every web page out there….including this site. Not a well thought out article.

  90. 93

    This is quite possibly the worst article on usability that I have ever read. I bet you got pissed when Microsoft created windows because it didn’t follow the familiarity of the DOS interface. We all know how unsuccessful windows was though right?

    Also, the only conclusion you can draw from the graphs at the beginning is that the iphone is just a toy you use to impress your buddies.

  91. 94

    sarfaraz hassan

    August 31, 2009 10:24 pm

    Really useful article. Looking forward for more..

  92. 95

    If everyone followed the norm we would not have the iPhone in the first place.

    WHEREVER you can break with the design of the iPhone – Break it.

    It is (almost) like the first rule of making a slideshow in Powerpoint or Keynote – DO NOT use the built in transitions and uber cheesy effects.

    Yes, in a good few cases it will be smart to use the standard design, but if your app relies on that, just do not make the app. Good design is different, but intuitive. There are no law against smart user friendly design which should be the topic of the article, NOT follow suit like everyone else!

  93. 96

    very nice article… I am looking for

  94. 97

    Tsk, tsk to both Alex, for writing this horrid trash, and for publishing it online. I have several apps (FourTrack), including games (I Dig It, X2 Football), that I have used and still use that look absolutely nothing like Apple’s user interface and I glad they don’t. If is the authors site, which it appears to be, then it all makes more sense; bad navigation design, jpegs instead of actual text and breaking almost every web design rule… (I’ll stop now)

  95. 99

    Adrienne Szewczyk

    November 24, 2009 12:33 pm

    – over-blown visuals
    – confusing navigation (flow, layout and taxonomy),

    These two issues would likely be resolved if usability testing were a higher priority in the app development community. To take a more active role in promoting usability, Lextech has developed an iPhone app called Mockup. It allows the developer or designer to create and get feedback on app designs before coding ever starts, thus reducing overall app development costs and resulting in a higher quality final product.

    Check it out here:

  96. 100

    very interesting article :) the same thing is happened with the websites, some of them are really really annoying, too many graphics/colors.

  97. 101

    Oliver Goodman

    March 22, 2010 12:23 pm

    When is #2 iPhone’s Technological Limitations. What Apple hasn’t told you.

    Smashing Magazine???

  98. 102

    Excellent review with really helpful visuals, I can’t wait to send this out.

  99. 103

    Murtaza Imran

    April 26, 2010 12:18 am

    Excellent!! makes perfect sense.. should be a standard

  100. 104

    Jeff Murray

    May 10, 2010 8:19 am

    Great article, well presented and sooooo right! :)

  101. 105

    Overall great, however I somewhat disagree about the folder tabs vs. UISegmentedController in the Yellow Pages example. This is a case where the iPhone metaphor is the anomaly and is less obvious to users (based on my experiences watching test users interact with my software). Unlike most of the other examples in this article, folder tabs don’t add complexity while reducing information. In fact, I feel they _add_ a dimension of information by being visually connected to the display they are modifying, rather than just being positioned nearby. Apple screwed up in this case; I assume it’s because the folder tab approach does require some careful positioning of graphic elements. But maybe they could have done something similar to scope buttons in UISearchDisplayController?

    • 106

      +1. The UISegmentedControl is intended to filter a single data set, which is inherently different than tabs, which are meant to toggle views.

      For proper use of the segmented control, look at the Recents tab in the Phone app. You can choose “All” calls or filter the results to see the “Missed” ones. But it’s only one set of data: your phone calls.

      Great article though!

  102. 107

    So basically you are saying that you want every app on the store to have apple’s standart look. Because the controls they created are universal and beautiful.
    You will never get sick of all apps looking like your settings list.
    Because people are not looking for new experiences with the iPhone. They want what is easy, quick and common.

    Just like everyone should wear blue jeans and white shirts and get the same haircut, because, think about it, things would me much easier for the hairdresser! He would not have to re-learn how to get a hair done. Cheaper for him AND for his customer!

    You really got to be joking if you call yourself a designer. Fortunately Apple has already done your job for you, mister ;D.

  103. 108

    This article makes some thoughtful points, but three things that bug me about it (and about Smashing in general):

    1) Irresponsible use of visualizations
    What’s with the abundance of introductory charts showing points only tangentially related to the topic at hand? Other than to make the article look well-researched, they don’t help many any sort of useful point. Instead, all they do is imply the existence of a (completely specious) relationship between app usage over time and the way the app’s controls look.

    2) Filler
    I’d like to point out the caption under the “WHOA” sign: “Sign B, 2, ‘STOP,’ shall be used to notify drivers that, at the intersection where the sign is placed, they shall stop before entering the intersection and give way to vehicles on the road they are approaching.” Article 10 of 2006 road signs convention.” Thanks for telling us what a stop sign is.

    3) Oversimplification – The author has conveniently managed to boil down an entire discipline – interaction design – to simply the efficient allocation of screen real estate, saving clients money, and avoiding the use of eye-candy.

    4) And this is more of a personal pet peeve… stop using and abusing the words “beautiful,” “stunning,” and the like. The aurora borealis is beautiful. A GPS interface is not.

  104. 109

    Wow, very cool article. Well done and written with professionality. Some companies, like this one:, are really investing a lot in new and more stable applications for iPhones and other Apple products, but I guess there is still a long way to go.


  105. 110

    loic tortelier

    November 24, 2010 3:05 am

    Sorry for my bad English, I’m french :P
    Good article! The relevance of design iphone is important because a design that do not cool it with the phone is iphone iphone will neglect the spirit. I do not defend the iphone because I’m on android but I defend against the design well done and the importance of the concordance of styles.
    If we design iphone, so far as to do a iphone;). So this article is important.
    soon for the design or webdesign iphone and more here. or in my website : , in french, :P

  106. 111

    Mufeed Ahmad

    March 7, 2011 3:44 am

    Very Helpful… thanks for sharing these things….:)

  107. 112

    This article is stupid. It’s about over-done apps yet I have yet to have the full article load on my ipad (in safari or skyfire) OR on my MacBook (in safari or firefox). Maybe someone should write this douchebag an article on over-blown web articles.

    OR maybe people who can’t even handle “designing” a fucking simple ass online article shouldn’t cast stones at those who actually are capable of creating functioning iOS applications.

  108. 113

    Good article

  109. 114

    Great article!

    Currently researching costs associated with application development and also a strong individual/company that could be recommended for construction.

    I appreciate any input.

  110. 115

    Thanks for this article. ‘has some flaws it complains about, but ok, you made the point clear: Not many programmers understand designing – or law, or machines or politics… They should be quiet and listen to what the experts have to say and learn. That’s how you improve in life.
    What I like on this page is you show screen shots – but not in original iphone/ipod touch size. I find the iphone screens too small and when you show a larger image you don’t see what you would see on a real iPhone screen. – the iphone screen cannot be enlarged! (the 3-finger zoom function is not a lot helpful, I find (It just enhances the unsharpness like a real spyglass).
    Programmers should be forced to program with the eyestraining screen of an iphone (2*3) , then this super tiny texts would less come up – and there would less discussion about it.
    The programmers are often young with still good near-sight and no experience, not even car driving. Often you see “screen in screen screens” making it even smaller.
    The original iPhone apps show it: They all have decent big fonts, no need for super tiny, white on black texts, which the iphone screen not can even handle. There is no need to make things smaller.

  111. 116

    This is worst design advice.

    This wants to make everything like Soviet Union.

    Uniformity and flatness and un originality are simply boring.

    Wrong path. I hope that all those who compete with my App follow this deranged advice!!!!

    • 117

      Songleeking, you know nothing about UX or patterns. I suggest reading articles about proper UX design before posting.

      There is nothing wrong with individualizing your app, but it’s another thing to have no idea about real design while building your app. That’s why programmers typically fail (see article) as they program, they aren’t designers. Judging by your response, you are a developer and not a designer.

      this is really no different than the mid-90s when everyone started building webpages. Everyone used animated gifs and repeating backgrounds. It was years later that good design practices came in to being. With iOS, any monkey can make an app and have it published by Apple. It’s a different ballgame if you can actually make something compelling, needed and looks good.

  112. 118

    You are absolutely right, but have too much faith in people’s intelligence by assuming that they would rate functionality higher than looks when shopping for an application (or anything else, for that matter).

  113. 119

    Great to see how stupid Apple users are and will download anything just because it’s only 99 cents. It’s really no wonder why developers have so many downloads. It’s not they are putting out good apps. It’s because the price is right in the eyes of the consumer. Any clown will buy a pile of crap for 99 cents if it has an apple logo on it (see appleTV and mac mini ‘server’). yes, I have an ipad2 and use due diligence before buying any app. 99 cents here.. 4.99 app there.. it ultimately adds up. I’d rather use that money to buy some coffee, and not that crappy burnt Starbucks that many Apple fans love, judging by how many snooty people with Mac Books are at Starbucks these days. Great article. I hope the sheep and their developers are listening.

  114. 120

    Anthony Burokas

    August 31, 2011 10:25 am

    I agree that overdesign is bad.
    However, the underlying assumption is that Apple’s current implementation is correct.
    Overlooking the fact that they will change the look of iOS at their whim, and nothing is perfect, I was surprised by your Yellow Pages section where you said the toggle works better than the apps. I heartily disagree.

    “Blue” may mean on, but usually, also, brighter objects are the active objects rather than darker items. So with Apple’s two toggle buttons, it’s actually quite unclear which refers to the content below. Push, pull, but neither actually takes ownership of the content below the buttons. They seem like an unrelated setting.

    With the tabs, (and very similar to tabs in web browsers) the active tab is physically connected to the content, and takes ownership of it through a clear and direct connection. Or, to refer to part of your article: “it is clear that a user interface feature is ‘intuitive’ insofar as it resembles or is identical to something the user has already learned.” The tab feels like a folder and it “holds” the content below it like the contents within a folder.

    Apple may use tabs in a future iOS interface change and then we’ll say “gosh! how intuitive it is.” :) Or they could stay the same. Or, like many aspects of OS-X they could screw up the interface majorly over time- for the sake of over blown visuals.

  115. 121

    Cool! Let’s make everything look the same…

  116. 122

    A nice article; What I felt is you are emphasizing on using default controles rather one’s own designs; The point is good that using custom designs, a control lost its self descriptivity;

  117. 123

    I agree with most of the points except for the Yellow Pages one, which seemed fine to me. The toggle is humongous and ridiculous-looking. I think it’s good to be creative, but for standard components like “Back”, “Search”, etc, just use what’s standard.

  118. 124

    I wanted to clarify for some other viewers(programmers I am talking to you) that interaction design is different than visual design. The two can often be very separate from each other, like when you make wireframes, you want to stay away from visual elements(even though many times that becomes difficult).

    This article isn’t perfect and I think many commenters definitely complete it in a great and collaborative way, but for the non designers, who do make apps and websites, in my opinion, it is VERY IMPORTANT for you to learn about typography, white space and good user interaction practices. I am a designer and spend much of my time learning how to code, I don’t see why a programmer can’t do with the same with design :)

  119. 125

    Great article! An informative and fresh insight on mobile design apps. Great use of examples that make this article worth reading until the end part.


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