Master the art of app design by balancing design and functionality

Floyd Hijada

There are thousands of mobile apps available for Android and iPhone. What makes the top grossing apps successful is that they can find the right balance between design and functionality. This partnership between the two makes an app skyrocket into success.

Nike+ Running

App Design: Nike+ Running

Functionality: The Nike+ running app is the app to use when tracking your runs. In terms of functionality, it does everything you would want it to do, and more. The app uses GPS to track your running route, while keeping tabs on your pace and calories burned. You set up a social profile that shows your running history, total mileage, and fastest times. You can then use the app “compete” with friends in amount of runs or total distance per week. There’s also a photo option, where during your run you can snap a photo and post it on your social media page with the distance and pace. Yes, show off that 5k time! And to top it all off, you can add your Nike shoes into the app to track how much wear-and-tear you’re putting into them, so that you know when to purchase a new pair to prevent injury 😉

Design: Nike+ uses the same design aesthetics as their website to keep consistency. The Nike brand uses big and bold letters to grab attention — that typeface emphasizes Nike’s “Just Do It” mentality. The app also shows a lot of fluidity and movement between its features. The subtle effects of charts and information flying towards you helps you feel like you’re already moving around the app before you go out on your run.

Evernote

App Design: Evernote

Functionality: Evernote is pretty much the top organizational app out there, and has an ever-growing list of functions. You can save your favorite webpages, create an organized and timely to do list, plan trips and share them with your friends, and you can even take a picture or collect ideas you might have come across your long commute to work. Evernote does it all and adds on the ability to sync it to every device you have. They should really rename this app Forevernote.

Design: Evernote has recently updated their overall look and feel. It used to be cluttered, but they have managed to minimize all the elements and organize them better in cue card-like notes. Your notes can also be viewed in one big mosaic on the homepage and you can quickly scan through which note you would like to go through.

Duolingo

App Design: Duolingo

Functionality: Duolingo has exploded in popularity over the past year. Move over Rosetta Stone, Duolingo brings a more easy-to-organize approach into learning a new language. The app guides you from beginning to end in your language studies. It provides detailed chapters for each language, such as ‘basics’ and ‘phrases,’ and allows you to set goals for your language of choice. You can track your progress daily, and gain ‘bonuses’ for breezing through your lessons in a couple of days. The app also offers voice-assistance, where you can listen to the pronunciation of any word you are having trouble with. No need to go Google how to pronounce a word. Just tap it with your finger and a lovely, soothing voice will pronounce the word for you. Finally, haven’t opened the app in a while? It will remind you to hop back on to keep up your studies. How considerate.

Design: Duolingo seems like a video game right from the start. It uses bright colors and cutesy icons to keep you engaged. The owl is ever-present, complimenting you along the way and reminding you that learning a new language is a breeze and that it’s not stressful. The app also provides you a lifeline for each lesson, symbolized by hearts. When you mess up, you lose a heart — and you only have so many per lesson. So pay attention! Make any learning experience a game and you are golden.

Monument Valley

App Design: Monument Valley

Functionality: This game offers a breath of fresh air compared to the many renditions of Flappy Bird or any of the 2048 games. Monument Valley, which is inspired by Impossible Objects is a very riveting puzzle game that will keep you interested with its complexity and architecture. The main objective of this game is to figure out the complexities of these unique structures. You play a character which you can control as you go through the structures puzzles, secret entries and switches. The structures also change as you find hidden passages and buttons.

Design: I don’t really need to say that much about the aesthetics of this game — just look at it. The attention to detail from the developers here is amazing, and each building has its own intricacies that you might not catch on your first play through. Each level is beautifully made with the perfect choice of colors to set the environment and the mood of the current level. The 3D aspect of this game is also one of its high points, as it stands above the many 2D games provided in the app store.

VSCO Cam

App Design: VSCO Cam

Functionality: VSCO Cam is a photo editing and sharing app, one that boasts a lot of features that not many other photo apps share. It gives the user the ability to edit your photos with preset filters or by tweaking the photos yourself. Then, you can super conveniently share your image to social media. VSCO Cam also has their own photo-sharing called “VSCO-Grid” where users can upload their photos, similar to Instagram, but with fewer selfies. User images that were edited through VSCO Cam can also be featured in the “journal” section of the app. The journal section features handpicked images (think Top 9 at 99) and a bunch of other cool pictures floating around the app.

Design: VSCO Cam doesn’t do a ton with its interface and it puts the photos in the forefront. The app, which provides a black and white layout with some nice and hipster-ish sans-serif fonts, is very user-friendly. It provides easily scrollable preset photo effects as well as sliders for contrasts, tints, highlights, and more.

Which app do you think achieves this balance best?

Related articles:
30 beautifully designed and functional mobile apps
The cutting edge of app icon and button design
Mike Kirby: how I quit my day job and designed a top-tier mobile game
5 tips to get you started in iOS app design
App design: create eye-catching icons

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