5 years

The more I think about it, the more I’m realizing that 2014 is turning out to be a Big Year. Perhaps The Big Year.

First (and most importantly), it’s my and my wife’s 20 year wedding anniversary (just this past Wednesday, on July 16th). It’s rather hard to believe we’ve already hit this mark, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been married for 20 years! I sometimes wonder whether we got married in junior high school. But then I’m reminded that we’re 43 (which I also can scarcely believe), so then I remember that we were 23 when we got married.

Still pretty young, but past junior high.

2014 also marks the year that our oldest daughter starts her senior year in high school, our second-oldest begins high school, and our third-oldest begins middle school (which, due to my advanced age, I sometimes mistakenly call junior high, much to my girls’ embarrassment). And just as important, though not a milestone year, our youngest will be in third grade.

So lots of milestones for this family in 2014.

But there’s another milestone I’m hitting this year that’s pretty neat. 5 years of being in Apple’s iTunes App Store.

In the context of my overall design career, 5 years is relatively short (considering I’ve been working on the Web since 1996). Still, 5 years of designing apps for the iPhone and, eventually, also the iPad feels a bit more significant. Maybe it’s due to being involved since nearly day one, whereas I didn’t get involved with the Web for quite a while after it was established.

But even 5 years later, I have to commend Apple for iOS product design still feeling quite special. As we know, the operating system is very tightly coupled with Apple’s hardware design. It’s a closed system, which some people love to complain about. But those who design for it know better. Sure, it’s not open like the Web, and thus has some drawbacks, challenges, and limitations. But the fact that it’s a closed and curated ecosystem, limited to a small number of device types, makes it a joy to design for. There are several reasons:

  • Unlike designing for Android, testing for iOS is a relative breeze. There are only a few devices and versions of the OS out there in the wild. Whereas testing your work for Android devices is a complete nightmare, and always will be. You can never, ever be sure that your app (or, on the Web, your site) will be reliably and reasonably rendered on all Android devices. The sheer number of devices, and manufacturer modifications to the OS, make it impossible to ever achieve any kind of confidence around designing for Android.
  • iOS makes money. Whether it’s being able to sell content, where I’ve focused most of my work, or whether it’s being able to sell the apps themselves, iOS is a financial success story. And not just for Apple. iOS helps make designers and developers successful, too.
  • iOS is delightful to use. Now I’m also a Web advocate, and I agree with all of the many reasons why designing for the Web in a mobile first, responsive manner is important. Because it is. The Web is an even bigger success than iOS — it is accessible on many more devices and operating systems, and because it is based on mostly open standards, it is more accessible to more people — to designers, developers, and customers alike. But all that being true, iOS is still much more delightful to use. Because it is engineered to be that way, and technically I doubt that the Web will ever match iOS in sheer delight.
  • Designing for iOS makes you a better designer. This is undoubtedly the most biased reason for liking iOS. But I truly do believe that Apple invests so much time, money, and effort into its user experience and interface design research and development, that the results are superior. In fact, I believe that Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, and many of their recommendations for designing for iOS, in particular, are absolutely world-class. So by designing for iOS, I believe that people become better designers. And not just better designers of iOS apps, but better interaction designers overall.

So I continue to be quite excited to design for iOS. For some apps, I continue to update and iterate on designs that have not had to change much in those 5 years. And for other projects, I’ve been involved in redesigns, enhancements, and other new directions. And taken all together, my experiences with iOS have been a significant game-changer for my design career.

Thank you, Apple, for the opportunity to participate. I look forward to the next 5 years with great anticipation.

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