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Fresh App Design Tips for the Apple Watch


We really love the Apple Watch here at the Lounge and have written a few things about design when it launched, but after a few more months of practical application and really diving into it ourselves we decided to share some fresh app design tips for the Apple Watch.

So why provide updated tips? Just like anything else in life, you learn a lot by doing. While we had some excellent ideas based on our years of experience with web and app design along with the time spent working with first generation wearable tech, until you actually get your feet wet with designing a few apps for the Apple Watch from start to finish there was more to be learned.

What did we learn?

App Design Tips for the iWatch

  • KISS – Keep it simple stupid. The best apps created so far for the Apple Watch are very focused and simple. As app designers that come from a world of trying to do more, doing less, better, is hard but necessary. Strip that design down to one core idea and execute it flawlessly. The first few forays into Apple apps ended up being too complex and cute for their own good. One of the complaints so far about Apple Watch apps is performance and the easiest way to work around that is via simplicity.
  • Entry Flow is completely different – Our initial assumptions about the Apple Watch were that you would have some similarity with entry flow, or the way people enter your app, much like a phone app. Either the watch face or the home screen would be the starting point which would then lead to the app itself and then content. The reality is that people mostly interact with apps via short-look and long-look notifications. Rather than going through the expected front door of the app home screen instead they popped open a window, reached in and grabbed content, and then left. So while app navigation is important along with a good app home screen, neither is remotely as important for this type of device compared to others as they are easily and readily bypassed.
  • Limit notifications – In essence the Apple Watch acts like a personal assistant. When you are busy and want to be disconnected from your devices, it lets you know when there is something urgent you need to know about or alerts you to something you want to be aware of. From a design aspect that means that notifications should be severely restricted or your app must feature simple customization to allow users to restrict notifications as much as they want. As a design you need to think, “Exactly what is important enough to interrupt me?” Imagine you are playing with your kids or having a serious conversation with you mother. What is important enough to tear you away? That is where the line needs to be drawn for notifications because that interruption is a tap on the wrist and is one of the most powerful things the watch can be used for, in either a positive or negative way. Of course that line will vary from users to user, but in our opinion the default setting should be very restrictive with the option to add more notifications if the user decides they need them, not the other way around.
  • Create something watch necessary – By this we mean don’t simply make a smaller, less useful version of something people can use on their phone. As we mentioned above, the watch becomes a personal assistant that filters information and contact to those things a user deems important enough to be interrupted with. Why create something that a user will ultimately realize is easier to do on a phone? App designers have had the same issues with certain apps for tablets that were scaled down desktop programs that they again tried to scale down to a phone. There becomes a point where the screen is simply too small and the functionality is not there making the actual task inconvenient to try and accomplish. If you, as a user, would rather do what your proposed app aims to do on a phone or tablet than a watch, don’t waste time making it. If the app is important enough to interrupt you when you are enjoying “me” time, then definitely make it.

The bottom line is that with any new tech there will be a learning curve. In the case of the Apple Watch we have had to redefine many design ideas because the device offers a lot more in regards to how user interact with it compared to phones or tablets. Our fresh app design tips for the Apple Watch reflect our experiences after getting our feet wet and will hopefully help when you decide to dive into the pool.



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