Book Review / Overview: “Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps” by Josh Clark



I read Josh Clark’s book earlier this year.  The introduction included the perfect quote to describe what this book was about: “This book teaches you how to “think iPhone.” It isn’t a programming book. It’s not a marketing book. It’s about the design, psychology, culture, usability, and ergonomics of the iPhone and its apps.” For someone like me, a programmer, who does not have much design sense, and who has never worked in the mobile space before, this book was quite insightful, but… the book is not aimed at programmers. It really is a book for designers… of iPhone apps.

I enjoyed reading this book and felt that I learned a lot from it. If you want to build iPhone user interfaces, I can’t think of a better, more complete reference, and I definitely recommend it. If you’re not designing the UI, or if you’re designing the UI for a different mobile platform, it won’t be quite as useful, since other platforms, such as Android have some different standards. Overall though, this is an excellent book.

Per Chapter Overview:

Chapter 1: “How we use iPhone apps” – This chapter is really an introduction to iPhone app use: the common contexts that users find themselves in when they’re using apps, the quick in-and-out of many iPhone apps (get in; do what you want; then get out), the limitations of a small screen and big fingers, and the thing that applies to all applications, mobile or not: simplicity of user interface.

Chapter 2: “Is it Tapworthy?” – This chapter was about creating an app that users would want to buy. A good point was made about when a user might us an app, any app:

  • “I’m microtasking.”
  • “I’m local.”
  • “I’m bored.”
  • There was a good story from Josh Williams of GoWalla on how/why/what they decided to build for a mobile app, and there’s some good discussion on what sorts of features to include. I liked this quote: “An effortless user experience requires a streamlined selection of tapworthy features. It all goes back to the iPhone’s environment of scarcity—limited attention, time, pixels, device memory, and processing power.”

Chapter 3: “Tiny Touchscreen” – This chapter is about fitting your app into the tiny screen. It covers ergonomics and designing for users that will use your app with one hand. It covers designing controls that work well with a thumb and goes over the best placement for controls, considering how most users use their iPhone. It also includes tips for trade-offs with the chrome and the content, for instance putting detail on an entirely different screen.

Chapter 4: “Get Organized” – This chapter is about designing the navigation of your app. Use the built-in navigation models. There are 3 basic navigation strategies: flat pages, tab bar, and tree structure. Make sure there is a clear pathway through your app, not a web. Prototype and follow Apple’s design conventions

Chapter 5: “The Standard Controls” – As the title suggests, this covers the standard controls that come standard with the iPhone. The chapter goes into good depth on most controls, describing how they’re used and in what situations you’d want to use them. There are also some useful recommendations about which keyboards to use and where to put controls.

Chapter 6: “Stand Out” – This chapter is all about giving your app a visual identity, a look and feel that will be unique and recognizable. There are good tips on lighting effects, gradients and textures, all things you can combine to give your app its own ‘personality’.

Chapter 7: “First Impressions” – This section is all about making a good first impression with your app, from the icon you create for the App store, to the splash screen that displays when your app is loading, to the first screen a new user would see. There are some really great tips and techniques in here, for making a good first impression on your users.

Chapter 8: “Swipe! Pinch! Flick” – As you can imagine, this is all about gestures. This is a really insightful chapter covering the common gestures and ways to incorporate gestures in your app that make sense and won’t confuse your users. There’s also discussion on the shake gesture, as it seems to becoming an undo/redo action. It discusses giving users a non-gesture way to perform an action they’d perform with a gesture and giving visual feedback.

Chapter 9: “Know the Landscape” – This chapter is about the design considerations involved when choosing to build your app for  landscape and/or portrait mode. There’s some good information on why users switch orientation and good discussion on why your app may or may not want to support both orientations.

Chapter 10: “Polite Conversation” – This section is about providing messages to your users, and discusses alerts, badges, spinners, model buttons, and diversions. It’s all in the name of being polite and useful to your user, complete with references to Emily Post.

Chapter 11: “Howdy, Neighbor” – This chapter is about playing nice with other apps on the phone and with user data, transferring control to another app when appropriate; using the common data stores (contacts, photos, calendar), instead of rolling your own; and using  web views and map views within your app to avoid too much app switching.

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