When I found out I was going to have the opportunity to design an iPhone application, I jumped at the chance. While I’ve designed mobile phone applications, they were browser-based (which was a unique challenge of its own) .

The challenge of the iPhone application was primarily to get myself into a completely new mode of human-to-device interaction. From the touch -screen technology to the strict guidelines outlined in Apple’s 150-page iPhone Human Interface Guidelines, I had my work cut out for me.

Not to mention that we had a grand-scale idea that, at the same time, would have to be broken down into tasks with an average of two- to-three-step interaction flows.

What could be more fun?

Here’s my list of the top things that make UX development for the iPhone relatively easy:

A pre-made UI kit. Actionable items, navigation locations, and various types of information viewing modes (tables, lists) are pre-determined on the iPhone. All you have to do is figure out which one will work best to suit each feature.

  1. A limited number of items in the UI Kit. This forces you into designing features and functionality that conform closely to other applications, therefore maintaining that wonderfully consistent iPhone standard. The learning curve from application to application is very low due to this, and users can jump right in.
  2. The high level of detail provided in the HIG document pretty much gave me a laundry list for every challenge I would face, making my UI designs essentially plug-n-play.

And, conversely: the challenges I discovered along the way in designing for the iPhone:

Getting into a new mode of thinking: touch-screen, tiny views, limited flows, and users who are in a hurry: they’re not wasting time on the computer at home in the evening, they’re on the go: traveling, in transit, in the middle of doing other things (standing on line for a latte!) and they want to accomplish tasks with little to no wait time.

  • Restrictive use of the components in the UX Kit. For example, you must always place certain types of interaction in the same place, and you cannot add interaction that the UI Kit doesn’t currently support (without a lot of hassle) . So when you’re looking, for example, for a way to provide a user with more than three actionable options, you are limited. 
  • Put your creative solutions back in the box. If you’re an out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to design, you’re going to have to climb back in. Apple wants you to use the tools they give you, period. Don’t create new or innovative ways of attacking a problem – follow the provided solutions, and make one of them work. For me, this was really hard. Why doesn’t Apple want my great ideas? Okay… maybe they do, but they would prefer that we are consistent.
  • Back to the Drawing Board: if you can’t make one of the UI kit’s approaches to a problem work,you’re going to have to go way back to the drawing board, and break down any interaction flows you may have created that, um, creatively circumvented – or outright ignored!—any of the HIG standards. 
  • Visual Design Limitations: while that might be a dream for a development team short on visual designers, it’s a bit of a disappointment for the design team. Getting colors, gradients or patterns into the overall look and feel of the iPhone isn’t as easy as code.css { color: #4b0082 } . It takes developers a few backflips (and maybe even a few hacks) to get a remotely complex color scheme into the interface, so design with caution, and expect to have to go back and re-visit your look and feel after conferring with developers.

My Best Recommendations for iPhone UX Design

Read the HIG.

  1. Read the HIG.
  2. Read the HIG. Okay, you get the point.
  3. Don’t deviate from the standards outlined in the HIG.
  4. Get your features nailed from the first.
  5. Get your flows in order with pencil and paper first.
  6. Don’t start design until you’ve worked with development on a skinless prototype to make sure everything you want to do is going to work.
  7. Keep your design simple and clean.

And that’s it! Happy designing!