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iPhone application design and the righteous retina

Kelly Milligan
Friday 19 August 2011

iPhone application design and the righteous retina display

App design is pretty new ground for us at Frontend, but damn we're loving it! Here's a few tips and useful resources we've picked up so far.

Application design is huge right now. Whether you're designing for the relatively mature iPhone market, slightly greener Android market, or adolescent tablet market theres a lot of fun to be had!

Our experience at Frontend with apps has been an exciting and challenging one. Web is our bread and butter, but those web things we're so good at don't necessarily translate to a good user experience on-device. The first place to start is here: the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines. There is a lot of usability material in here that comes in so handy at all stages of app design. When you are squeezing so much into such a small area, usability and user interaction define the line between a frustrating user experience and a brilliant one. These User Experience guidelines are especially valuable.

The iPhone's retina display displays a whopping 640 x 960 pixels. Thats wider than this blog column, but on a 3.5" screen. This really opens up a new level of detail for designers. every pixel difference you make may seem small, but combined they form such a sharp and polished interface you just can't get on a computer screen (yet...). Consider a texture that is usually too fine to be seen on a phone screen, this is a perfect example of there you can really push these tiny details to your hearts desire.

Tip 1 - Use Adobe Photoshop! We are big fans of Adobe Creative Suite here at Frontend. Illustrator is an invaluable tool, but when you want to form a pixel perfect, easily dissectible group of graphics without vector output being required - photoshop comes out on top.
- Apply all your styling through the styles panels, you will change things over and over again to get it exactly how you want it. Even colour objects using the 'color overlay' style. It will save you tons of time!
- Keep your layer structure organized! If you don't already, make the effort.
- Set up a nice boiler plate which you can iterate to add new views to your application design
- Save a selection of 640x960 pixels at the perfect place for screenshots (read below)!

Download the Retina Display version of this iphone mockup template

Tip 2 - Use the excellent resources available to you - There are excellent resources available for designing on the iPhone. A prime example is the Teehan + Lax interface sheet. This contains a bunch of vector based standard iPhone elements for you to use during mock-up phases! This file provides you with actual size elements you can drop into your own file and rapidly prototype with. Just keep in mind that its only for Mock up purposes.

Tip 3 - Test your designs on the iPhone as plain images. It's so simple to see how your interface will look at its actual size and colour. Simply load up your 640x960 selection (mentioned earlier..) and copy a merged version of your design. Email this to yourself and opening it with your iphone. hit 'Save image' to save it. Go into your iPhone's photos section, open up the screenshot, tap on the screen to dismiss the top and bottom bars. Voila! perfect representation.

Be open to the challenge that app design brings. It brings with it bucket loads of strategy, thinking and innovation which can often be put on the backburner in web. We're looking forward to more!

That's all the tips we have time for this week folks, please tune in for a later post on app design. Any questions, comment below or flick us a message on the contact page



iPhone application design and the righteous retina