Re-thinking app design

Our design team was recently called to re-think the design of our mobile app. It’s grown quickly – so before committing more code, it’s a great time step back and approach the design a little more critically .

The app’s primary function is to capture and stream live video to an audience that can watch it on a desktop. It’s gaining rapid adoption in live sporting events & similar venues. We created two mobile app to serve  Apple IOS and Android, and here lies the problem.

One universal App? Or two distinct platform designs?

So here is our conundrum: Do we continue designing once, and applying the design to two different platforms? Or is there an opportunity to leverage the features that make an “Apple” app and an “Android” app distinct. Each has a slightly different user-interaction pattern, each has a distinct brand if you will. There are pros/cons to how both work.

Apple is pretty static and established – familiar to most of us. There are certain best practices that are prescribed, and icons/typography that is very “iOS” in it’s look and feel. Heck, there are templates you can quickly borrow from, closing down the design process to just arranging the right buttons.

Android has a greater variety of interactions & gestures to control an app. It’s design theory is being cemented by Googles new Material Design principles which relies on layering and interactions to engage the user.


So given the opportunity, we did a quick design charrette – 3 designers for 2 days.

One designer looking at a “universal” interaction pattern. The other two each focusing on a platform specific design – pulling forward the best interaction patterns of each platform into the design. The designers went heads down and spent some weekend time playing with different concepts. We set the primary goal to explore consistent navigation patterns. Secondary goal was to streamline some of recording tools that had begun to take over the capture screen and overall, make it easier to use.

This was an intentionally fast design & decision process – we probably could have iterated for several weeks, and incorporated more meetings & testing. The short-burst approach gives you multiple creative designs, each from a different perspective. All are quick studies, so no one’s super attached to “their” idea. All are high-return on their time investment, without the diminishing return for a long design cycle.

For my role, it’s simply to clarify and facilitate good design. Give each designer direct feedback and help clear up any questions about which direction they should be pursuing. Before we present, I’ll wrap it all together in a quick keynote presentation. The presentation primarily helps reminds the team the project goals before we jump into looking at designs. If you don’t have some clear goals or success criteria, it’s too easy for a group to get distracted when reviewing a design. The presentation shouldn’t be too  formal, it just enough to keep everything in one place & present each design in a consistent light.

We had 2 reviews: first a quick review as a small team, giving direct feedback that could be quickly acted on. The second review as a larger group of developers & product owners, with the goal of leaving the meeting with a design direction.


As most exercises, there we’re elements of each design that had promise. One of our team captured an excellent profile view, while another focused on highly-legible navigation for the user.

Another unexpected result was how much our team thought about animation. I credit Material Design for getting our heads moving further in that direction. One of our team took the time to animate a concept for the record button as a quick movie we presented. The animations really helped convey the design.

Next steps

We agreed on a hybrid approach: There would be brand elements that tie the apps together. Both apps would have the same user flow & functionality. However they’d have separate interaction patterns that each user base is familiar with. There was no need to teach an iOS user how Android works, or vice-versa. And each app design is free to take advantage of it’s platforms distinct way of doing things.  And this speeds up development.

From here, our process gets iterative again. Smaller increments of work with light user testing in between. And working closely with the app developers; often times our developers are the first to introduce us to a unique interaction or possibility native to the platform.

Thanks for tuning in, I look forward to sharing the results when the next generation of hit the app store.