Developing Perspective

#106: Fashionable Apps.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:05   news of note and iOS development, Apple and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm

00:00:09   an independent iOS and Mac developer based in Herne, Virginia. This is show number 106,

00:00:14   and today is Tuesday, January 29th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes,

00:00:19   so let's get started. The topic I wanted to talk about today is essentially the role that

00:00:23   fashion plays in the creation of applications. And by fashion, I'm mostly talking about the

00:00:29   visual appearance of applications and the way they look and the way they, to some degree,

00:00:33   the way they behave and so are they gestural, are they non gestural. And I wanted to emphasize

00:00:38   here, the role at which this is very much a fashion oriented activity, and how that

00:00:44   should impact or influence how you develop things. And so to start off, I wanted to talk

00:00:49   about how this sort of this ongoing, the end of discussion that seems to just be constantly

00:00:55   circulating around the iOS development community, the press and people about it. And this is

00:01:00   this whole sort of, I don't need the splits between skeuomorphic applications and non

00:01:04   skeuomorphic or flat applications between gesture based and non gesture based, and how

00:01:10   it's sort of this pendulum that swings back and forth between these two. And it's an interesting

00:01:14   thing because in reality, the way I look at it, there's a discussion not necessarily about

00:01:20   one being better than the other, or about one being gender universally more appropriate

00:01:27   or whatever. It's a discussion about fashion. And fashion is a funny thing, because as they

00:01:32   say, it's like, if you don't like, if you don't like, if you don't like the current

00:01:35   fashions, just wait six months, you'll have something new. And there's a very similar

00:01:38   thing in iOS or with anything that there's what people are constantly trying to do is

00:01:43   to create something that stands out. And in order for something to stand out, it has to

00:01:47   to be different or more improved upon what its peers are, what

00:01:51   are the applications that are launching at the time

00:01:54   or whatever.

00:01:55   So if everyone starts launching very skeuomorphic applications

00:01:58   or very richly textured, whatever term

00:02:00   you want to use for it, visually very rich and dense

00:02:02   applications, at some point when that creates certain saturation

00:02:06   there'll be a reaction against it

00:02:08   and have very minimalist applications.

00:02:10   And everyone will have minimalist applications.

00:02:12   And then in order to stand out, you

00:02:13   have to go back to richly textured and so on.

00:02:16   there'll be this, you know, this fashionable part of going back and forth. And that's fine.

00:02:20   That's just part of the process. And I think it's important, though, to take that step

00:02:24   back and understand that that's what's going on, rather than trying to view these things

00:02:27   in kind of a religious debate or a fundamentalist debate in terms of it's, you know, one is

00:02:32   better than the other one is fundamentally more significant. It's like the goal for any

00:02:36   software application, whether it's visually rich, or whether it's visually simple, is

00:02:40   to accomplish a goal in or entertaining user, you know, you're trying to be useful, you're

00:02:45   trying to be fun. And you can do both of those things fairly well, you know, in both styles

00:02:50   visually. It's mostly a question of usability is fairly universal across all of these things.

00:02:56   You know, whether an app is designed from user-oriented perspective and designed to

00:03:00   minimize confusion, minimize number of clicks, those types of things is something that will

00:03:05   almost always be the same, irrespective of how it looks. You can take a poorly designed

00:03:09   app and gussy it up however much as you want.

00:03:13   And on the flip side, if you take a visually well thought

00:03:19   out, excellently from the usability side app

00:03:22   and put it into a very simple or basic UI,

00:03:26   it'll still probably be a better app.

00:03:28   And so just not focusing on those things in that way

00:03:32   is probably worth having that mindset

00:03:35   and thinking about it in that way.

00:03:37   So then really, I guess the question becomes,

00:03:38   like where does that leave us?

00:03:39   if we understand that the way an app looks

00:03:42   is a fashionable part of it.

00:03:43   It's important.

00:03:44   It's useful.

00:03:45   It conveys information about the app and the usefulness of it

00:03:48   and so on.

00:03:48   But what does that mean in terms of as we're building it?

00:03:50   And I think of apps that are good on both sides.

00:03:55   And you can think of, for example, you take the app Paper,

00:03:58   which is a drawing app for iPad that is very richly textured

00:04:03   and it's aschomorphic, if you like that word.

00:04:05   But it's a very rich user interface.

00:04:09   And there, I think it works really well, because what they're doing is they're trying to create

00:04:14   a sense of familiarity with a physical parallel.

00:04:18   It's like you're drawing in a notebook.

00:04:21   And it works really well at conveying that and making you comfortable with it in a way

00:04:24   that if it was very simple and sleek, you may not have that context.

00:04:27   So it's good in that case.

00:04:28   On the flip side, you could think of an app like Clear, which is a to-do list.

00:04:33   And part of what its goal is, is to reduce the amount of sort of Chrome and feature set

00:04:42   around by the use of gestural interfaces and things.

00:04:46   And so it makes a lot of sense there that their app is very visually simple as well.

00:04:51   It doesn't make sense if you're trying to eliminate, you know, interface Chrome by the

00:04:55   use of gestures to then have a very complicated and overwrought interface potentially because

00:05:01   you're kind of sending mixed messages. So whichever side of that fashionable thing you're

00:05:05   trying to be on, it's important that your app makes sense in that way. But all that

00:05:12   being said, the thing that I wanted to emphasize, and this is something that I've done in a

00:05:15   couple of my apps, and it's the importance and this relates directly back to fashion,

00:05:20   it's the importance of what I would consider classic styles. And by that I mean, if you

00:05:25   imagine in regular fashion, you know, just like normal, you know, Fifth Avenue fashion,

00:05:30   There are certain looks and styles and things that you would consider classic, whether that

00:05:35   is a men's suit, like a black suit with a white tie and a dark, a white shirt and a

00:05:42   black tie is a very classic look.

00:05:45   You can tweak and adjust it and so on, but it would have looked good today and it would

00:05:50   have looked good 20 years ago, which makes it a classic thing.

00:05:53   Or is it the classic, whatever, the little black dress

00:05:57   for women, or jeans and a polo shirt, or something like that.

00:06:01   There are a lot of looks that are just classic.

00:06:04   And there are similar analogs when we're creating apps.

00:06:07   And this is where often, while I end up building my applications,

00:06:10   I often look for classic looks.

00:06:12   And classic usually means whatever the native platform

00:06:16   look and feel is.

00:06:17   And I think of a lot of apps, that's

00:06:20   actually a good way to go.

00:06:21   And a lot of that is because it doesn't date itself at all.

00:06:26   By the nature of being classic, if you

00:06:27   build a classic interface, it'll look pretty good

00:06:31   at any point in time.

00:06:32   Even if it's in the context of a lot of rich apps,

00:06:35   it'll look OK.

00:06:37   If it's in a context of a lot of clean, simple apps,

00:06:39   it'll still look OK.

00:06:40   That's the nature of being classic.

00:06:42   And so unless you have the design chops, the design

00:06:47   budget and the desire to be updating the app as it goes, it's something that is often a

00:06:54   great place to start, especially if you're a smaller or starting out independent. I'd

00:06:59   strongly recommend hitting in that direction. It's one of those things that if you're going

00:07:03   for a complicated or a non-classic user interface, you have to hit it. You have to really be

00:07:08   able to pull it off. It's the same thing in the physical fashion world. Having an outrageous

00:07:13   outfit works great if you can pull it off. If you can't, then it's worse than just having

00:07:18   a normal outfit. You know, you really have to be able to invest fully into it and really

00:07:23   kind of own it in order for it to work. And so kind of going halfway in between with that

00:07:27   is just likely a dangerous thing. Some apps I think about that are good examples of this

00:07:33   are the default mail app, for example, on iOS. Still basically the same as when it was

00:07:39   first designed, I think it still works. It's visually, it's focused on content, gets out

00:07:44   of your way, it's very easy to understand. It works. You look, think about the app, even

00:07:48   like the original Tweedy or things that to do to list manager that are very native in

00:07:53   their look and feel. They still look pretty near natural and at home on the platform.

00:07:58   And also the advantage of native applications from a technical side is you get to take advantage

00:08:02   of the improvements or tweaks and changes

00:08:05   that the OS vendors are doing, essentially for free.

00:08:10   I mean, as an example, I think about the on/off switch in iOS,

00:08:14   where it used to be a square thing, and now it's rounded.

00:08:16   And that was kind of a stylistic change and a thing,

00:08:18   but that just came for free when you upgraded to iOS 5.

00:08:22   All of a sudden, all your things look that way,

00:08:24   and they kind of had that slightly--

00:08:26   got a fresh coat of paint, essentially, for free.

00:08:29   And so you get to take advantage of that.

00:08:31   They've changed some of the gradients, some of the styles,

00:08:33   some of the things in iOS 6.

00:08:35   Your app can get to a fresher look

00:08:37   that you didn't have to work for.

00:08:38   Obviously, you need to make sure your app still works

00:08:40   and looks good in that way.

00:08:41   But it's nice to be able to take advantage of that.

00:08:43   If I had created a custom on/off switch prior to iOS 5,

00:08:47   and the new one comes out, I'd have

00:08:48   to go through and do that work to make that happen.

00:08:52   So often, it makes sense to just start there.

00:08:55   Also, one of the parts of this that I wanted to mention

00:08:57   is I think starting with a classic design

00:09:00   allows you to focus on the right things at the right time.

00:09:04   Whenever I'm building an application to start out with,

00:09:06   I almost always use just straight native regular controls

00:09:09   to start.

00:09:10   And then I'll gradually work to replace and build those

00:09:14   and change and build those up over time.

00:09:16   So if I'm building an application that

00:09:18   has a fairly-- check the weather--

00:09:20   is a fairly minimalist or simple interface,

00:09:22   it started off in my early components,

00:09:25   my early development.

00:09:26   It was all very native looking and basic.

00:09:28   And that allows me to focus on the things that matter.

00:09:30   you know, the user interactivity, the, the overall usefulness and functionality, data

00:09:35   flow, the functionality, performance, those kinds of things that aren't, have nothing

00:09:40   to do with how it looks that have everything to do with how it feels and how it works.

00:09:45   And so it's an important thing, I think, to start off that way, rather than allowing yourself

00:09:50   to get too sucked into how it looks and making it visually very appealing. And instead, you

00:09:55   just be able to say, you know what, I'm going to make it work correctly first, and then

00:10:01   I'll make it look good after.

00:10:03   And obviously I'm not talking about user interactivity as part of that.

00:10:06   Obviously, having a well-designed app from a user flow usability perspective is a different

00:10:11   thing than the pixels that you're pushing, which I think hopefully I've been clear on

00:10:15   that.

00:10:16   But that is something that I tend to do late.

00:10:18   And also, if you take that approach and you work on a classic style first, if you decide

00:10:24   for whatever reason that you don't have time or interest

00:10:26   in expanding that or changing that to be fashionable,

00:10:28   to be either a richly textured app

00:10:32   or a reaction to that in a very simple way,

00:10:34   you have the space and the latitude to do that.

00:10:37   You have the ability to come in

00:10:38   and to enhance or not enhance as makes sense.

00:10:42   All right, and so that's it for today's show.

00:10:44   Just something I wanted to talk about.

00:10:45   It seems like there's constant back and forth about it,

00:10:47   and it's just like, at the end of the day, it's just fashion.

00:10:50   And, you know, whatever, right now we're heading

00:10:53   in this path of simple and elegant and stripped down.

00:10:57   I'm pretty sure if I'm still doing this podcast

00:10:59   in a year or two, we'll be having the flip back.

00:11:02   There'll be some marquee app that comes out

00:11:04   with a deeply rich texture and skeuomorphic

00:11:08   and all these types of things.

00:11:10   And it'll be, oh wow, check this out,

00:11:12   isn't that amazing?

00:11:13   It's like, yep, that's the nature of fashion.

00:11:15   And it happens back and forth all the time.

00:11:17   And that's how I expect it to be

00:11:18   and just like stop worrying about it.

00:11:20   And I'm gonna keep generally building classic apps

00:11:22   because it's easier, I'm not a pixel pusher in that way,

00:11:26   and it gives me a lot of flexibility to focus

00:11:29   on the things that I think are really important.

00:11:31   So that's it for today's show.

00:11:32   As always, if you have questions, comments, concerns,

00:11:35   or complaints, I'm on Twitter @_davidsmith.

00:11:37   I'm on AppNet @davidsmith.

00:11:39   The email for the show, if you want to email me,

00:11:41   is david@developingperspective.com.

00:11:43   That's new.

00:11:44   I set it up so it would probably be a little bit simpler

00:11:46   if you wanted to give me feedback,

00:11:47   follow up, those types of things.

00:11:49   Again, I wanted to mention I'm going

00:11:50   to be in Macworld starting tomorrow, Thursday,

00:11:52   Friday.

00:11:52   And so if you're a listener and want to meet me,

00:11:54   just contact me in some way, and we'll try and work it out.

00:11:57   At this point, I don't really know

00:11:59   what that's going to look like.

00:12:00   But just make yourself known, and I will do my best

00:12:03   to meet up.

00:12:04   And it's always fun to meet fans.

00:12:05   Otherwise, we have a great week.

00:12:06   I probably won't do a second show this week

00:12:08   because of Macworld.

00:12:09   So this will be it for the week.

00:12:10   And I'll talk to you next week.

00:12:11   Hope you have a great week.

00:12:12   Happy coding.

00:12:13   And I'll talk to you later.