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8 App Design Tips for Self-Conscious iOS Developers

How do you build good-looking side projects and indie apps if you don’t know anything about design? When it’s just you, but you still want your app to look good.

For many developers, what designers do feels like magic. Surely, it’s not done on the fly as you go, right?

Building apps is hard enough.

Don’t worry; here are 8 simple steps that will get you off to a great start:

  1. Spend time with the system apps and Apple’s other applications. Notice how they function and flow. This understanding is crucial in designing intuitive interfaces.
  2. Read the HIG. Apple publishes and maintains its Human Interface Guidelines, packed with great advice, guidance, and best practices for how Apple thinks interfaces should work. The HIG is essential reading for anyone looking to develop on Apple’s platforms.
  3. Sketch out a UI draft. Don’t overthink it. Just draw an ugly napkin sketch. The less realistic, the better. One thing I’ve done a few times is to print out this handy iPhone template, which Matthew Stephens, one of the founders of DeviantArt, shared back in the day.
  4. Stick to system components. SwiftUI (and UIKit) provides components for navigation, menus, layout, input, and more. If you find yourself looking for some element that doesn’t exist, and you’re considering building a new one, then that’s a red flag that you’re trying to do something too complicated.
  5. Use default padding and spacing, and be consistent across views. If your components are spaced differently from one screen to another, your design looks clumsy.
  6. Use system fonts, and only use the built-in text styles. Check how your app looks when using a larger text size. Remember that some 20-30% of users use larger-than-standard font sizes.
  7. Use SF symbols. Apple provides over 5000 icons and symbols that work seamlessly in all sizes.
  8. Colors: use as few as possible, and stick to the system colors like you did with the text styles. If you follow these steps, you will already be ahead of most other apps. Your app will be functional and fit well on the platform.

Remember that all those well-designed apps that you’re looking up to have been iterated on for a long time.

Good luck!

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