iOS Designers: Say Goodbye to Pixel Perfect

I once interviewed with a company where they asked me whether I can create “Pixel Perfect” work based on the design I’m given. I stopped interviewing with that company immediately after that call – this question was a big red flag to me. Unfortunately, there are way too many designers and companies who still think in the old-school “pixel perfect” design way.

The future of design is already here, and it is very dynamic, exciting, challenging, and far from pixel perfect. Here is what today’s iOS designers have to consider in their design (I know it’s a lot harder than the pixel perfect version!):

Relative Positioning

Let’s face it, there are different device sizes and orientations, even in iOS, and there are most likely more sizes coming if you believe the rumors.

This is why Apple has been pushing their Autolayout system – similar to relative layout in CSS. Instead of thinking in pixels, designers need to think how elements on the screen relate to each other and the screen.

For example, as the screen expands, does the text box expand with it, leaving only a 20px margin on the left and right, or does it stay the same size centered in the middle? If it expands, what is it’s maximum size (it might not look good taking up the whole screen when the device is in landscape mode).

Dynamic Type

Designers LOVE fonts, and it’s hard for many to move over to the new Dynamic Type way of thinking. With Dynamic Type, each font has to come in different sizes, so the user can choose to increase readability of your app if needed.

In iOS8, implementing Dynamic Type is so easy, it will become the standard and the “it looks the best with this font size” excuse will not do it for users who need a bigger font to see clearly.

Again, this means fonts are no longer static. The designer has to think of how each screen looks with different font sizes, and what those font sizes should be.

Kinetic Realism

With iOS7, physics-like animations have taken the center stage in iOS Design. Things are expected to bounce, collide, fall, etc. Custom transitions that show the users where they are in the app have become common place, especially in collection view (see Apple’s photos app).

A static PSD of the design does not begin to give you the feel for how alive the page should feel. There are now tools for designers (check out Origami by Facebook) to prototype those animated interactions. Ultimately, the designer has to work closely with the developer to get those animations just right.

Take a look at how the cute Snapchat ghosts play soccer, or how you can connect the dots in Uber while requesting a cab, or how the little icons move toward your finger and bounce around in the number of friends cell in Secret, or how the coffee bean circles fall around so smoothly in the UP Coffee container. All of these little cool touches make the app feel amazing (I actually enjoy waiting while requesting an Uber!), and none of them could have been done with a static PSD design!


Today’s design is more than ever about data. Before even giving the design to developers, a user experience designer can use tools such as Flinto to test out the app’s usability with real people. And after the app is out, the analytics will continue telling you if the app is used, when it’s used, and what users do in the app. Ultimately, data informs design.

This means that today’s designer has to be somewhat detached from their work. After all, what they thought was a brilliant idea could be completely lost on actual users, and they have to be ok with that.

This also means that the design of the app will be changing constantly as more and more data is gathered and more features are added. To make the changes quickly, designers need to think in terms of style guides for the app (think Twitter Bootstrap but for your app). Stretchable buttons are a must!

In some work places, developers have json files they use to specify font and color schemes for different situations, and the designer can go in and modify the json as needed. This type of model could be great for A/B testing design as well (use different font/color styles json files for a subset of the users).

With iOS 7 and iOS 8, the world of design and development is becoming more and more dynamic. I’m looking forward to seeing more designers adapt to these changes so we can create some amazing apps together!

Do you work with a good designer? How did you find them? What is their process like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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