Product Design

WWDC 2016 Recap: Design Session Takeaways

I was enthusiastic and touched to see sessions at WWDC 2016 on topics that matter to me: inclusive design, accessibility, typography, technologies for children with disabilities, and even saving wildlife. As a UX designer attending a conference geared mostly toward development, it was refreshing to see a few design talks that could help iOS developers bridge communication and collaboration gaps that sometimes arise between design and development teams.

Inclusive App Design + Disability and Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design

“We can choose to make our communities accessible. It’s in our power to provide access for everyone.” Haben Girma pointed out this very important message in one of WWDC’s featured talks, Disability and Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design. Let’s use technology to provide accessibility and be mindful of including everyone when we’re designing and developing. In a related session, Caroline Cranfill went through best practices for being world-ready, accessible, and culturally-appropriate through use of type, layout, color and iconography in her talk on Inclusive App Design.

“…It’s in our power to provide access for everyone.” - Haben Girma

Why should you be inclusive? 285 million individuals are blind or have low vision, worldwide. One billion live with a disability, worldwide. These users use your app. Why wouldn’t you design for them? A more informed design can work better and save time in localization and QA.

How can you design to be inclusive? This can be basic design 101, but be sure to use type, layout, color and iconography. Typography is impactful for everyone regardless of language, so communicate through typography clearly and largely. We use hierarchy, color, weight, and space to help with this. Apple recently updated the Typography section of the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. It goes into great detail on proper use of typography and how to design in a way that is respectful of accessibility settings.

Disability is not a barrier. Barriers exist because of society. It’s time to end the segregation between those who are “disabled” or “not disabled,” and begin designing with inclusion in mind. Haben Girma strongly encouraged inclusive app design. Develop one app that everyone can use that offers information in multiple formats.

Designing for tvOS + Designing Great Apple Watch Experiences

Apple TV and Apple Watch are obviously very different interfaces and designing for them requires carefully thinking through the experience. But there are similarities between them, too. And those similarities lie in simplicity. Apple User Experience Evangelist, Mike Stern , shared Leonardo da Vinci quote: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” This needs to resonate with you when you design great Apple TV and Watch experiences.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” - Leonardo da Vinci

This is Apple TV’s first WWDC. And with its premiere came Lauren Strehlow ’s talk on Designing for tvOS. The key takeaway from her talk is straightforward: We need to design for distance and we need to design for the remote.

How far are you from your TV when you watch your favorite program? It’s usually an average of 10 feet, so design from that distance. This is an obvious statement, but larger items are always easier to see from far away, so design large. We see this in street signs and billboards; the bigger the better. You don’t want your users struggling to read text or view graphics. Above all, prioritize legibility. Ways to do this can be found in the tvOS Human Interface Guidelines.

One goal of all Apple products is to connect people with content. This feeling of connection is expected from Apple TV too, even if you don’t touch the TV screen directly. However, you will be touching and interacting with the Siri Remote. Through its touch surface, the Siri Remote enables people to interact with content. When designing for Apple TV, use the functions of the remote in a way that connects people with your content in engaging ways. Interacting needs to be easy and intuitive, and the same gestures we use on our iPhone devices are mimicked for the remote as well.

Even though Apple strongly suggests to design for distance and the remote, innovation is also top on that list. Ask yourself how you can design for tvOS in a way that will really capture a user’s attention and engage them. How will you change what they see? One example of great design elevating the tvOS platform to a new level is evident in Reuters TV. The Reuters app effectively reimagines what news can be. It allows you to choose a desired program’s length and watch news that’s ready when you are (even without internet access). So if you only have 10 minutes to catch up on the news, that’s not a problem with this app. It was designed for distance and for the remote, but they also thought through what their app could do differently.

Glanceable, actionable, and responsive are keywords to keep in mind when designing for the Apple Watch. These are three primary themes that define the design approach to take. Interactions with Apple Watch are measured in seconds - ideally in two seconds! What comes to mind when you’re looking at any watch interface? Wouldn’t you want a watch face that lets you can read the time quickly? A brief history of watches: telling time quickly evolved from pocket watches to wristwatches particularly in modern warfare. Wearing watches by soldiers was obligatory two years into World War I. What was most important was the need to discern the time at a glance. That hasn’t changed for today’s soldiers, civilians, and for your own users. When you design your Apple Watch app, make sure you conscientiously think about how to provide users with essential information as quickly as possible.

Because the Apple Watch is one of the most personal devices Apple has ever designed, design apps that complement the iPhone, support lightweight interaction, and that can send contextual and relevant information in a timely manner. Similar to designing for any experience like tvOS or an iPhone app, you can design with simplicity in mind through the effective use of typography, information design, layout, animation, and color. To understand the foundations on which Apple Watch itself was designed and how to design for the ultimate sophistication (simplicity), check out Apple’s watchOS Human Interface Guidelines.

Typography and Fonts

“Typography and fonts” are sweet words to a designer’s ear. I was thrilled to see a session about this topic at WWDC. To a designer, the world is our oyster with typefaces, but with Apple (and most platforms) there is a system font specifically designed for text handling and typesetting capabilities for interfaces. For Apple, that font is San Francisco. SF UI Text and SF UI Display are iOS 10’s two primary system fonts. (The session also revealed SF Mono, which is a monospaced variant of San Francisco used in a code editor and the new default in Xcode.)

Antonio Cavedoni , a Font Designer at Apple, went into type terminology, typographic concepts, development tools, and type details. Beyond receiving an overview of the basics of type (i.e. glyphs, weights, tracking, kerning, leading, legibility, scaling, density, and voice), what’s also new to iOS 10 are enhancements in UIKit framework. It now includes the new UIFont method, which lets you seamlessly add support for Dynamic Type in labels, text fields, and other text areas. Further, it provides you with access to the font’s characteristics and glyph information, which is used during layout. One of the great features of San Francisco is the way it optimizes the typeface dynamically.

“Big. Bold. Beautiful.” iOS 10 is really embracing font size and weight with San Francisco. Legibility is pivotal and Apple apps are demonstrating this through their variation in typography to visually display typographic hierarchy. Given that San Francisco was designed specifically for Apple’s devices, it is the recommended font to use for your app. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use other fonts that will also embrace font size and weight just as nicely. The important question to ask is, what is the design intent? Custom fonts can work if it makes sense for your product and it doesn’t jeopardize legibility and readability.

“Good design is not easy.” - Ryan Olshavsky

“Good design is not easy.” With all of these takeaways and session overviews from WWDC, what’s most important to remember is that we must not only exercise empathy as designers (which I touched on a previous blog post ), we must also thoroughly research and understand what it is we are designing. Design isn’t always about pixel perfection, the guidelines, or being the best. It isn’t easy, but design does need to happen and is an extremely important part of a product’s lifecycle. It’s essentially the core of a product or a platform’s very being. With that said, I hope to see even more design sessions at WWDC 2017!

(I’m not recapping two of the featured talks and one of the design talks I attended, but Apple has posted all of WWDC 2016 session videos. See Tapping into Innovative Solutions to Save the World’s Wildlife , Talking In Pictures: Reconstructing the Building Blocks of Language , and Iterative UI.)

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