Tag Archives: design

x2y version 4

It was all the way back at WWDC 2014 that my friend Hans vershooten suggested what eventually became the marquis feature of x2y 4.0: Percentages.

x2y has always been able to calculate x or y dimensions for you automatically. It would be nice, Hans suggested, if it could also tell you the percentage difference between the original image and the new one. So if you want, for instance, a rectangle that’s exactly 245% of the original, x2y should be able to calculate both the x and y dimensions for that.

And now it does. (Sorry it took so long, Hans.)

Other new features in this update include 3DTouch shortcuts on the home screen, for devices such as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You can jump straight to a particular aspect ratio with one gesture. To customize which aspects end up in the shortcuts, simply put them at the top of your customizable common aspects list.

Also new in this update, two new color themes. I have fun changing up the look of x2y on occasion, so I wanted to add a few more options. Also, all themes are now unlocked by default, so no more hunting around looking for ways to get all the themes to unlock.

I’m a bit surprised that years after this app was first released, I still find myself using x2y several times a week. This was my first app, and I never imagined that I could take it so far. Once again, I can say with confidence that I’ve spent more time thinking about aspect ratio calculators than anyone else on iOS.

x2y an invaluable tool for any designer or developer who needs to resize images often, particularly in code. You can download it on the App Store here.

More Space, More Buttons

Seeing this tweet a lot today in my timeline.

The comparison is wrongheaded, because the people sharing it are confusing points with pixels.

The original iPhone screen did indeed have 320 horizontal pixels. It was also a 1x screen, which means it had 320 points, as well.

The iPad Pro’s screen, on the other hand, is a 2X Retina screen. Thus, the 324 pixels between the app columns on the home screen represent 162pts, or roughly half the width of the original iPhone’s screen. Even that isn’t quite accurate, because the two screens also have different pixel densities. But the point is, the comparison makes no sense.

I am typing this on an iPad Pro, and I assure you, an original iPhone’s screen wouldn’t come close to fitting in between the home screen columns of the Pro.

More importantly, the point those who are sharing this are trying to make is also flawed. More space on the home screen does not mean we should jam pack it with more icons. Just because you have the space, that doesn’t mean you should fill it with more options. This is UX design 101.

I don’t know what the maximum number of icons on a screen is before the number of options becomes too confusing to the average user, but I’m willing to bet Apple does. I’m also willing to bet there’s value to having a little bit more consistency between the layouts of the various home screens of our iOS devices. Imagine setting up your new iPad Pro from a backup of your old iPad Air. Having all your apps not only restore, but restore to their familiar layout goes a long way to making that first run experience more familiar and pleasant.

“But the home screen just looks ridiculous with all that space between the icons.” This is an unbelievebly dumb reason to add another column or row of icons as well.

There’s no doubt in my mind Apple tested the Pro home screen with more densely packed icons and decided it was a bad idea. They obviously have the technical expertise to have the Springboard space icons in various ways, because they’ve done it with the various screen sizes of the iPhone. Perhaps in this case, the extra icons didn’t add value. Perhaps they have research from their customers that users find it annoying having inconsistent layouts. Who knows? The assumption that Apple is simply being lazy, or that average Twitter guy knows better is astounding, though.

Jony’s Long Goodbye

How could he hope to reinvigorate a workforce stunned and disoriented by the loss of their mercurial, touchy, moody but magnetic leader? The one man band had lost its one man.

But since Jobs’s death Apple’s fortunes have not gone into decline. In fact the growth graph has climbed ever more steeply. The figures are simply incredible.

(via The Telegraph)

Now, why would Stephen Fry start this article reminding us that Jobs leaving Apple wasn’t the end, that in fact the transition to Tim Cook turned out well for Apple?

Just as the February New Yorker article served to introduce us to Richard Howarth, and the Wired piece in April introduced us to Alan Dye[1], all three of these pieces have served as a preparation for the eventual retirement of Jony Ive from Apple. This is one, long, calculated PR move. And it’s being executed flawlessly.

And that shouldn’t surprise us. This is simply what a top-level executive leaving the world’s largest corporation looks like. A person such as Jony Ive can’t just retire from Apple one day. He or she must transition, over the course of a year or more, so as to cushion the impact on the stock price, public perception, etc.

Start by making it look like a “promotion.” Then spend the next several months talking up the accomplishments of his replacements. (I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing Howarth and Dye featured in upcoming design videos and/or appearing on stage at Apple keynotes.)

By the time Jony actually leaves Apple (in a year or two, most likely), we’ll all be relatively comfortable with the idea of Richard Howarth and Alan Dye running the design of the company. Just as the vigilant among us knew that Tim Cook was going to handle things just fine once Jobs was gone.

Will some part of that old Apple magic be gone without Jony? Of course. But this is inevitable. Sooner or later, the theory that a company’s culture can outlive its leaders needs to be tested. And tested. And tested yet again.[2]

Meanwhile Jony will spend the rest of his time at Apple extracting himself further and further from the products and diving into the bigger challenges of retail, work environment, and so on. His legacy. His long-term impact. Can you blame him? If you were Jony Ive, would you really want to spend the next six months working on yet another even thinner iPad?

  1. Credit goes to Ben Thompson for the Howarth/Dye insight, from this morning’s member’s-only daily update. If you’re not a member, you should consider it.  ↩

  2. If Apple is still humming along when none of the executive team members from the Jobs era are still around, then we’ll know that the company can truly endure. I suspect it will be.  ↩

My Talk at MCE 2015

My official talk from Mobile Conference Europe 2015 is now available online. My topic was “Design as if No One is Watching.” A bit of a call to remember who we work for as designers building great products on teams.

It was incredible to take part in this conference back in February. Highly recommended, if they do it again next year, that you consider attending. Special thanks to Jarek and the whole team over there for making it a wonderful experience.

Course Correction

I’ve been looking closely at iOS 7, and like many designers I have mixed feelings. Some of the changes, like the expanded use of motion, are a breath of fresh air. Animation is coming to the forefront and will only be further explored in the years to come. And that’s very exciting. In other areas, meanwhile, such as the heavy reliance on type rather than icons, the over-reliance on plain white backgrounds everywhere, and the lack of clear separation between elements such as the status bar and the title bar, I’m a little less convinced. (And I won’t participate in the icon debate, except to say that there’s more work to be done, I hope.) But I understand that this is a rough draft, that all Apple interface design is a work in progress, and that the “big shifts” (just like the original OS X) usually take a few iterations before Apple works out where they may have taken it too far in a particular direction.

And that’s where my work moving forward comes in. Unlike Apple, I only have a handful of apps to conform to this new iOS 7 design language, so I can take some extra time with them. And the number one guiding principle for me is this: Don’t overcorrect.

I think a lot of designers will be tempted to strip out all adornment in their apps and try too hard to copy the stock Apple apps. This would be a mistake.

Take my app x2y, as an example. I started thinking about what I would need to do to make this fit in with iOS 7 immediately following last Monday’s keynote. And what I’ve concluded is that it does need some work. But not as much as I initially thought.

Sure, I can further flatten out the already pretty flat toolbars, remove the highlights and shadows from my custom number pad, maybe back off on some of the background texture. And I can get rid of some of the custom adornments that don’t really need to be there, such as the logo on the top of the interface. But should I switch from the dark grey to a more iOS 7-common white background? I don’t think so. When I use this app, I’m usually in my dark office, with my focus on my iMac’s 27” screen. The last thing I want is my iPhone or iPad blasting white light at me just so I can make some image size calculations.

And what about the font? Helvetica Neue Light is nice, and I actually like the system-wide movement toward thinner fonts on Retina screens. On the other hand, Futura is a major part of x2y’s personality. Those sharp, beautifully recognizable numbers were chosen for a reason, and I can’t see replacing them just because the system font has changed. I can, however, in the interest of improving clarity, make those fonts larger in some places.

After a few days of playing around, what I ended up with is something along the lines of this. A change, to be sure, but not a drastic one. A look that won’t be out of place on iOS 7, but would still work on iOS 6 as well.[1]

x2y in its current form on the Left. Proposed redesign for iOS 7on the right.

One of the nice things about iOS as opposed to OS X is that once your app is launched, it takes over the entire screen. So while you want it to fit in with other apps on the system, there is plenty of room for your own app’s personality to shine. You can have a custom look and feel, so long as the user experience is consistent and it doesn’t look too out of touch.

My advice to my fellow designers is to not take the new look of iOS 7 too literally. Remember the core of what Apple’s trying to achieve—clarity, deference, depth—and interpret those principles in your own fashion. Sure, hard light from 90-degrees above is giving way to more diffuse, ambient lighting, and heavy drop shadows and distracting textures are likewise passé. But don’t try to make all your apps look like iOS 7 Mail. That would be counterproductive.

After all, Letterpress looked and worked just fine on iOS 6. Twitterrific fits in nicely on either system. Because good design is good design. It’s much better to be in the position of potentially influencing Apple’s next version of iOS (as those two apps clearly did) than to be copying the current version.

  1. Note, this is three days worth of work on the next version of x2y. The final product may vary quite a bit as it gets refined over the next few months.  ↩