Effective design is crucial to an app’s utility. We held a workshop for our developers on the key principles that comprise Binaryveda’s design philosophy. We discussed how these principles interact to create a harmonious user experience, and how the subjective nature of design means there is no universally “right” way of doing things.
In no particular order, here are the major design principles that lay the foundation of a great app:
There are several ways you can achieve contrast in your app: through colour, size, or space. Contrast helps you emphasise a focal point on the screen, highlighting actionable items. It’s also a great way to add visual interest and establish a theme.
The challenge with contrast is finding the right balance: having too many contrasting items on the screen could confuse the user and divert their focus. You should also be consistent in the way you achieve contrast between elements.
In many respects, balance is the fundamental design principle. If the other principles are impossible to achieve, your design should at least be well balanced.
Symmetrical balance puts equal weight on both sides of the axis, usually vertical. This makes the design look cleaner and more organized. You can also look at symmetry in terms of whether elements fit within equal sections of a grid.
Asymmetrical balance is the rebellious variety, more challenging to pull off. It does not involve axes; instead, the elements work together to achieve balance in the way they fill the space. Its dynamism lends itself rather well to artistic websites, such as fashion.
You can also express balance in terms of information on the screen, such as between the map and directions in a navigation app.
Proportion is one of the easier principles to incorporate. It signifies the relative importance of elements through visual weight: the most important feature is the biggest, and less important features are progressively smaller. You’d be right in considering this a type of contrast, which goes to show how these principles are interlinked.
Another way to depict the importance of elements is through emphasis. It works well with the other principles and helps draw attention to specific parts of the screen, be it through contrasting colours or sharp differences in proportion. Even if your app design is black and white, using one bold colour to accentuate elements is a good idea.
Hierarchy is most often seen in textual elements, where font sizes imply the relative importance of different elements. There needs to be a strong relationship among elements, and they should look balanced.
A consistent and unified design is key to a harmonious user experience. Visual elements should cooperate and have clear relationships. A design where the user can rely on an element having the same function throughout, and vice versa, is a mark of excellent work.
Repetition can also help you unify your design. In posters, it imparts motion to a design and reinforces an idea. For example, a poster where the logo repeats in an upward pattern denotes growth, reinforcing a positive image.
White space on the screen makes the design breathe and is vital to a minimalistic design. Inconsistent use can, on the contrary, break visual sense and cohesion. Properly using the space is just as important as creating it in the first place. This relates to achieving balance in the way you arrange elements on the screen.
Rhythm is one of the more abstract design principles. Organic shapes can bring comfort and show motion between screens. However, rhythm only makes sense until it affects usability—don’t go out of your way to incorporate it. Most apps restrict rhythmic elements to the splash or onboarding screens.
Above all, the design should be harmonious and appropriate for the app. Using a trending design language is far less important than using one that makes sense for what you’re trying to achieve. Incorporating these principles isn’t usually a conscious process. A good designer absorbs and builds a cohesive design philosophy through practice.