The Progression of App Design


"Wow, this app makes this paragraph of text really easy to read on my phone's three inch screen!" Sound familiar? Probably not.

Compared with what we see today, the earliest versions of mobile apps don't appear very user friendly or well designed. Since iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices have burst onto the scene, app designers and users alike have needed to adjust to the nuances of the technologies, from the inclusion of touch sensitivity to the issue of varying screen sizes. The past few years in particular have fostered a rapid design and interface progression, making apps an integral part of our everyday lives.

Initially, many companies that wanted its own mobile applications simply tried to transfer their full websites onto a smaller template, resulting in a design that took no advantage whatsoever of the evolving technology. Let's take a quick before/after look at the LinkedIn app, which you probably know as a social networking platform for business professionals:


To the left, you can see that the early version of this app was extremely basic and designed to follow the icon-based home screen that so many of us are accustomed to seeing on our iPhones. This was a welcome jump from the previous version that was nearly identical to its full website (think lots of text and not much else), forcing users to zoom in and out as necessary, certainly leading to much frustration and a dropoff of users. Taking a look at a screenshot of the current LinkedIn app on the right, you can see that the functionality of the app has been completely rethought and overhauled, dividing its content and features into separate categories that wait for you to decide what you'd like to interact with. This is a prime example of a well designed app.

So how can you go about improving an app that is already used by millions? Well, it's important to take stock of what users take advantage of most and stick to that, eliminating as much fluff as possible. LinkedIn's Product Chief Jeff Refern recognized that its demographic of business professionals ages 25-34 demanded industry news updates, so the latest version of the app features a newsfeed right on the home screen. From a functionality standpoint, the current version features minimal text and just a few larger buttons, showcasing the ease of connecting with other professionals to expand professional networks. Many newer apps are following this trend of simplicity by utilizing keywords, images and buttons that optimize the limitations of the screen size and hone in on the primary uses of the application itself.

Location-based social network Foursquare exemplifies how a pixel is worth a thousand words with its image-centric interface that boasts a GPS-based location tracker and auto-refreshing home screen to reduce the need for individual searches. Take a look at its sleek design:


The modern feel goes along with the current trends of cleanliness and simplicity in app design. Three simple tabs at the bottom and a few clickable icons help users learn where their friends are, making it simple to meet up. See, technology can improve real-life relationships!

Just like any area of technology and design, certain trends catch on in the app world due to the novelty and innovation of the medium. Growing from its early bulky design concepts, apps have evolved to make smartphones a must-have tool to navigate the tech-savvy world we now live in. So whether you need your phone to double as a Scrabble board that can change the channel on your television, or if you're looking for the latest updates on the upcoming Presidential election, there's most certainly an app for that. And, luckily for us, it's designed the way we need it.