23 Oct 2013


Recent Design Trends in Mobile Apps

Design is everything. Great ideas turn into great designs and great designs help in building great apps. Earlier, people worried more about the functionality of the app and cared less about its interface. But times have changed. People now have a zero-tolerance policy for antiquated apps.

App Developers not only need to create aesthetically pleasing interfaces, they also need to keep up to the perpetually altering design trends.

And let’s not overrule the catastrophic outbreak of apps on the three major mobile platforms- Windows, Apple and Android. For your app to stand-out, it needs to have a kickass interface blended with an amazing idea. Might sound exaggerating, but the time of mediocrity is out. Boring, humdrum, run-of-the-mill doesn’t work anymore.

The obvious question swirling in your mind right now would be- then what would? Well, to answer that, we had to take our crystal ball out, and foresee the times ahead. Here’s what we think would be the app design trends that would click with the audience.
1. Minimalistic Design: Less is More

The mantra- ‘more is less’ has taken a setback. People no longer have an affinity for a cluttered up interface. They want apps that are simple, beautiful and intuitive. The combination of these words aptly defines minimalism- the lesser, the better.

Too many controls make your app look like an aeroplane cockpit- powerful yet confusing. The key to minimalistic design is to use as beautiful and as few controls on the screen as possible. User interactions can be done using hand gestures, instead of individual controls. When you have lesser controls and more gestures on screen, your app looks easier to understand and pleasant to use. Here’s a good place to understand minimalism and get a bird-eye view on how top-notch apps are inhibiting it.

Concisely speaking, Minimalistic approach is all about getting more out of less. It’s more of an art and less of a science. And like every art, the more you explore, the better you get.


2. Flat Design: Keeping it simple

Skeuomorphism is now old-fashioned. Flat is in. Gone are the days of realistic three-dimensional graphics that steal away the simplicity of the app. People now want to see only those things that matter.

Flat design is about designing interfaces in two-dimensions and about showing interactions that really matter. Simpler the better seems to be the motto.

Flat design started trending after Microsoft unveiled its Metro-styled Windows 8 UI. The tiled interface besides being simple was amazingly intuitive and beautiful.

With Windows 8 on the rise and skeuomorphism going out-of-fashion, flat is the way to go in future. iOS apps like Rise have already adapted to the flat design trend and created some mesmerizing interfaces. The prime advantage of flat design over skeumorphism is that it doesn’t need to be scaled up to suit every screen size. Flat design looks great on all devices and on all screen sizes.

Still not convinced Flat’s the way to go? Here’s an insightful piece on Flat design that would help you catch up on the trend and re-energize you to go the simpler way.


3. Say Goodbye to Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism designs are out. When Apple introduced it a few years back, people were a huge fan of it. But, not anymore. Developers are slowly realizing that decorating an UI and giving it a realistic touch doesn’t improve the interactivity or utility of the app.

Looks do matter. But if looks create a bottle-neck on the overall performance of an app, it’s better to settle for something more subtle. That’s exactly where flat inutitive design kicks in. Flat designs are much simpler and better than skeuomorphism.

In case you’re wondering what skeuomorphism is, here’s a little brush up. Skeuomorphism refers to a design approach in which design cues are taken from the reality. Like, turning a page of an e-book should preview the rollover effect. Skeuomorphism has been criticized since long for underutilizing the capabilites of smartphone devices by forcing them to imitate the behavior of a physical object.


4. Bigger Controls

Bigger is better. Smaller controls no longer grab eyeballs or fingers. When you use bigger controls, you not only adapt a minimalistic design, you also make interaction simpler. That’s the reason why an increasing number of app developers are using larger controls for interaction. They simplify the interface and put the user in control.


5. Beautiful Typography

Bigger, better fonts are fast replacing the monotonous, system-default typefaces. Beautiful typography forms an important aspect of app design, as choosing a state-of-the-art font family like Helvetica, Baskerville, or a custom designed font can really entice users to explore the app.

Previously, the font-size was 10-12px, but now apps are using fonts with 16-18px. Quite apparently, developers want users to notice what’s being offered by the app. And an easier way to catch their eye is to use larger, catchier fonts.

Clear lettering is important, especially when you’re developing a professional app. A heavier typeface would make your app look little different than your counterpart, give it a mere professional touch; a lighter typeface, on the other hand, would make the app look simple yet beautiful. Here’s a good place to learn how you can use work with typefaces to create beautiful looking fonts.

Earlier, it was difficult to integrate different font styles in an app, but the recent SDK improvements on almost all platforms (Windows, iOS, Android) alleviate a designer’s misery. It’s extremely simple to customize an app’s font style now. Case in point, apps like Instapaper, Pocket, Flipboard have already made the most out of beautiful typography.


6. Touch, Tap, Swipe, Tilt, Wave, Speak

As we foresee a trend towards minimalism in future, we expect apps to have fewer controls and more interactions. Till now, it was just about touches and taps. But, the trend is soon going to change. For browsing pages, you would soon be tilting your phone to the right instead of swiping your finger to the right; you would be swiping across menus for alternate actions; tapping and holding the screen to refresh the feed; pinching the screen to zoom over and zoom out; waving in front of your phone to wake it up.


7. Animation as Signboards

Great animations make great apps.

Animations are going to form an important aspect of app design, but in a much different way. Until now, animations were used as little treats of delight, merely to woo the end-user and to give apps a very snappy look-and-feel.

Well, scratch that. App developers are now putting animations to good use and using them as signboards, instead. The “Slide to unlock” animation on the iOS lock screen gives an end-user a very clear visual representation of the action to be performed. More examples of apps that unleash the power of animation to create intuitive apps can be found here.

Designers are now using animations to get users well-acquainted with the functionalities of the app. Animations like change in appearance of buttons when clicked (change in colour), the swift movement of images in foreground when compared to background, the stretching of images when we move from one page to another (Flipboard style), jittering of a control when long pressed- all these animations give your app a very lively feel. It’s almost as if through animations your app can interpret user’s actions and react towards it. In other words, it personifies the overall look-and-feel of the app. And considering the impending inclination of designers towards amiability, we believe Animations are there to stay, for good.


8. Native v/s HTML5

“The biggest mistake we made with Facebook for Android was that we over relied on HTML5”- Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook went native with Android a few months back, after getting disappointing results with HTML5. And, boy! It worked. They were able to pump up the performance of the app and achieve space as well as time efficiency.

Beyond doubt, HTML5 is new, powerful, and time-saving. HTML 5 boasts amazingly powerful media handling controls and scripting using the newer version of HTML is much simpler. But, when it comes to performance, nothing beats native. The only advantage HTML 5 has over native is that it can be ported to any platform.

With users getting more conscious about the performance of apps, if your app runs just a tad slower than contemporary apps, your app might end up in a dead man’s coffin.

That’s the reason why you should take the shift towards native, even if it seems inconvenient at the first glance. We foresee a lot of apps being translated into native language in future, as it improves performance and simplifies the design. Here are some more insights on the HTML5 v/s Native concept.


9. Vector Graphics

The biggest challenge a designer faces is scaling up the graphics to suit different screen sizes. It’s easy to design graphics for an app, but holding them up on different devices with different screen sizes and varied screen resolutions- not an easy job.

To make the task of a designer simpler, there’s a tool called Sketch that has been released over the Internet. Sketch helps in developing graphics for a particular screen size and then allows you to scale them up to suit different screen sizes.

Sketch helps in streamlining the whole processing of graphics designing and helps developers in creating resolution-specific designs. Never before has been designing made so simple and convenient. Expect more users to jump on to the vector ship in future, as there’s little reason not to.


10. Context Sensitive apps: Apps that learn

Another design trend that we’re going to foresee is the development of context-sensitive apps. These apps change their content depending on where you’re and what you’re doing. Let’s not forget that apps are being developed for humans. And, hence, they should be able to recognize the behaviour patterns of users and adapt accordingly.

Apps can be developed that automatically go in background when a user stops looking at the phone and revives to life when he stares at it. News apps can be developed that only show the headlines while a user is walking, but when he stops, it shows him the whole cover story. Weather apps can be developed that show the weather based on a user’s current location.

Designing context-sensitive apps is all about understanding the user patterns and creating an interface that’s personalized for the end-user. At the end of the day, humans crave for objects- be it physical or virtual- that they can connect with. And context sensitive apps provide just that.

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