“Oh you’re a designer? What sort of stuff do you work on?” That’s probably the question I’m asked the most when I tell people what I do. Whether due to a lack of understanding or interest, design can be a bit of a grey area to some people.
However, I believe the times, they are-a changin’.
We’re entering an era in which quality design is starting to infiltrate our day-to-day activities and interactions. Well-visualised and immersive apps and games are becoming the main form of our daily distraction; our lives are being given a fresh lick of paint and I couldn’t be happier for it.
Emergence of the UI designer
The evolution of our digital landscape has had quite an impact on the design industry, with a wealth of new opportunities opening up for designers in the form of UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design roles. I’m not sure there has ever been a time when designers’ skillsets have been more sought after; there is a huge demand for intuitive and enjoyable experiences wrapped up in slick visuals — users expect nothing less.
This surge of popularity — in particular with mobile apps and games — is something I’ve noticed recently among my friends and colleagues, with a strong visual style being the common theme. It’s refreshing to hear people who might not have previously shown an interest or understanding in design complimenting these experiences on their graphical flair.
Of course, the flat design revolution championed by Apple’s newer operating systems exposed the market to a cleaner and somewhat friendlier method of digital interface. However, I feel it’s the unique, engaging games and apps put out by the independent studios that have kept people coming back, spreading the word to their peers.
Two Dots is one such app, one of the latest causes of a decline in workplace productivity. The premise couldn’t be simpler: connect as many same-coloured dots as possible to gain points and pass levels. And that’s it. There really isn’t much more to Two Dots. The game’s levels are split into wonderfully realised worlds that act as a theme for each stage, all rendered in a brilliantly simple flat vector style. Some variety is thrown into the mix in the form of ice blocks, fire balls and space portals, but the core experience remains the same.
Two Dots’ simple puzzle mechanics and attractive visual style mean it’s accessible to anyone, with friends sharing and comparing their progress acting as a key catalyst in the game’s popularity.
Oh and it’s free, which always helps. The developer (aptly named Dots) has adopted a free-to-play model, meaning a player gets to use five lives before the obligatory ‘cooling down’ period. Those who are super addicted can bypass this through micro-transactions, but it’s that same five-life system that stops users from spending hours on the game, reducing the chance of it becoming tiresome. Instead, you’re drip-fed an addictive and increasingly difficult experience that, when coupled with the charming, pixel-perfect visuals, keeps players coming back for more.
My next notable mention is the brilliant Monument Valley, which creator ustwo pitches as “an illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”. In basic terms, it’s a puzzle adventure in which players guide a princess through levels built on optical illusions and physically impossible structures, complemented by some fantastic sound design and some of the most stunning visuals you’re ever likely to see. Seriously, any screen of this game could be taken and framed as a piece of art — the developers sell prints on their website as proof of this. Beautiful visuals are certainly the main draw.
Despite Valley being a relatively simple puzzle game, it has a completely different appeal to something like Two Dots. Instead of a focus on sharing and competition between your peers, you play the game solo, happily spending a couple of hours completely immersed in the experience and delightful eye-candy images.
Monument Valley is the greatest representation of a modern form of digital art and appreciation for design. Screenshots of the game have been used to promote both Apple and Android devices in their official marketing; if that’s not proof in the graphical pudding I don’t know what is!
My final example is an app I’ve only just started using, but it’s one I can tell I’ll be sticking with for a while. Elevate is a personal brain trainer designed to help you improve various skills and intellectual performance with daily challenges and games. Through clever design and backed by scientific research, the app throws a variety of tasks at the user to help with everything from error avoidance to pronunciation.
The activities are enjoyable and satisfying, made better by the fact that they are uniquely tailored to your learning requirements. For example, a user might want to focus on improving their memory or syntax understanding more than their problem-solving abilities, so they’ll be offered a series of tasks to help improve those areas, with the unnecessary games being removed from the equation.
The app works so well because it takes the potentially intimidating or boring experience of learning and delivers it in a friendly and fun bite-sized format with a great sense of style.
These are just a few instances of brilliantly executed design in games and apps, with more and more being created every day. Other honorable mentions are Quiz Up, Dumb Ways to Die, and Puzzlejuice to name but a few. They’re all worth checking out but beware: they may ruin your social life.
Industry taking notice
The smartphone market is now larger than the desktop market, and the industry has taken note. Businesses appreciate that there’s never been a better time to showcase their brand’s forward-thinking approach with quality mobile services.
Much like the games, if the UI looks great and works even better, there’s a good chance the customer will rave about the experience to their friends and family. Whether it’s a clean and intuitive banking experience from Barclays or eBay’s super-smooth app, an effective mobile-friendly offering really can boost conversion rates and improve your brand image.
So what is the result of playing games and interacting with apps like these on a daily basis? The simple answer is a certain level of expectation and appreciation when it comes to design. Whether they know it or not, the general user now judges their media based on art style, interface design or general ‘feel’. Ugly and unresponsive apps won’t garner much attention, but a well-visualized, intuitive experience will keep users coming back for more.
Has design started to factor into your media choices? What apps or games have had your eyes tingling with visual delight?