Hi all, I’m working on an app. Could use some design inspiration. What app interfaces do you love? Especially apps that manage to look inviting while having a large feature set.
To be sure, I’m not asking workflow or overall experience. Just looks. I already know everyone’s UX favorites: variations of “it just works and fulfills its function easily without getting in my way.”
IMO, Things 3 and Craft are two elegantly designed apps.
I feel Apple Notes is well designed and a pleasure to use on Mac, iPhone and iPad – as well as in iCloud on the web, which is a bonus.
I also enjoy using Agenda for its ease of use, even with its considerably more complex feature set than Notes.
I’d try to identify the core basic features of the app I want to design. Don’t overcomplicate it (especially in version 1.0). Make it do one thing first (or the first three things?) and do it well. You can always add a new feature at version 1.1. Version 2 can have more features but let’s just make sure the core basic features are taken care of first.
I have to second Agenda, especially their animations that differentiate them from the run of the mill apps.
Also Flying Logic has an interesting perspective in that it handles layout of diagrams. While this doesn’t give users the ability to tweak things, it also frees you from endlessly tweaking and fiddling with things so that you can focus on thinking.
Semantic nitpick: “design” and “look and feel” are two very different—if related—things. To design a thing is to design-ate what is and is not important to the thing; it’s not about making it pretty. See also Mike Monteiro’s Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, Richard Buchanan’s Wicked Problems in Design Thinking… (I know that this probably looks like a silly thing to debate, but I think it’s an important distinction. I’ll try to demo that here…)
I have long dismissed Carrot Weather. I bought it initially because of the hype and just wasn’t impressed by the central conceit. It was good-looking but otherwise didn’t impress me enough to remember to open it when I wanted to see if we were expecting a thunderstorm.
Then, in v5, the developer made the iOS and iPadOS app completely customizable. It is truly a feat of design. It looks fantastic, but more importantly, it puts so much power in the user’s hands. Any weather app provides effectively the same function: take a bunch of weather data and show it to the user. Carrot allows you to see exactly what you want to see, when you want to see it, how you want to see it, and it does so with aplomb.
I’d also celebrate Concepts, the sketching app, for its UX around object selection. Tap and hold to activate one of three tools that let you select different parts of the canvas. You can manipulate how long it takes to activate tap and hold, and once the control is activated, a UI element appears that lets you control what you’re selecting. I find it really sleek and intuitive.
Studio One has a great user experience and look.
I like many Apple apps, so Numbers, Keynote, Notes, Finder spring to mind.
Procreate on iPad is amazing in this regard. I’m always worried it’s going to over-complicate things, but it hasn’t yet.
Agenda and Things 3 are both gorgeous.
Interestingly enough, neither one is in my favorite colors.
I’m glad you are aware how important a UI truly is. I don’t enjoy working or tasking or much of anything else if the UI is not attractive.
Procreate is another beauty. Just a pleasure, a joy to use. There is a free manual in Books. I think it is a mere $10 now. I paid $5 a few years ago. You can get into doing art, scrapbooking photos or simply doodling. I CANNOT say enough good things about it.
I love the UI of Logic Pro. It’s one of the few “Pro”apps that I could learn intuitively. I never even followed a tutorial or book, yet could start recording music after a couple of hours tinkering (after using Garage Band).
On the iPad and iPhone, I really like the design of Superhuman. It’s the only email app that I enjoy using on iOS (I did email exclusively in MacOS before). The design and gamification makes dealing with email fun and the Inbox Zero images are inspiring.
Reeder (on iOS and macOS).
Reeder, Things 3 and Carrot weather are all great looking apps. Carrot weather especially shows dedication to great design and user delight.
I’m not really a visual person, so the lipstick you put on the app isn’t the most important thing for me: of course ugly apps aren’t great, but as long as they do the job better than alternatives, I don’t worry too much. (I really don’t understand the fuss on MacRumors every time the OS is updated…)
However, there is one main UI feature which is enough to make me avoid an app (or at least feel less kindly towards the developer if I have to use it), and it’s the intensely irritating and bewildering insistence that I must use the mouse for features when there’s absolutely no need to do so.
Of course there are some features where keyboard input doesn’t make sense, but if you make me pick up the mouse just to go to the next document in a list (Obsidian) or to fill an essential field (Aeon Timeline), then that’s not good. Give us the choice.
BTW, I’m not irritated by programs which have keyboard-suitable features available on menus (I’m quite happy adding my own shortcuts), but by those which don’t even give you that choice: it’s the mouse or nothing. That’s just bad design.
The same goes for some iOS apps: people use external keyboards a lot these days. It’s really irritating to have to touch the screen to do something which could be done with a shortcut.
On a more positive note: for me, Scrivener (Mac version) is a great example of a complicated app with a well-designed look and workflow, which you can manipulate with both mouse and keyboard.
: If I’m wrong about there not being a command/shortcut for next/previous document in Obsidian, please tell me, but I’ve just spent some time searching the command palette and help docs and can’t find one.
I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for but option+command then right/left arrow keys will move you back and forth between previously opened documents.
Thanks for the reply, but no, it’s not that (there’s a dedicated command for next/previously opened in cmd-]/[ I think. That’s the standard Mac Forward/Back shortcut and I’m glad it’s there, but it’s not what I’m looking for.)
It’s the most basic of features: go to the sidebar and select a file — it opens that file. Stay in the sidebar and press the down key. You expect, and want, the next file to be shown, but it doesn’t seem to happen. Similarly, there’s not shortcut for ‘next/previous’ document, as there is in DEVONthink, Scrivener, Tinderbox, Finder etc…
There doesn’t seem to be a way to traverse the directory with the keyboard. (I know you can search for a file, but that’s a different capability.) Am I missing something?
I believe you are correct, I misunderstood the question.
I was hoping you’d tell me I was wrong It’s such an odd omission.
Thanks (I do like reading your enthusiastic comments on the software you try — they’re very useful!)
Thanks, you are kind. Given the rapid development of Obsidian I’m hoping this omission will soon be addressed. After reading your post I tried the same navigation in Craft—it also does not work navigating the folder/doc list.
I hope so too…
At the moment, I’m giving up playing with Obsidian and Craft (and Emacs) and trying to use DEVONthink as much as possible — it can do almost everything the others can and I’ve (under)used it for years, so I’m comfortable with it. I spend far too much time thinking ‘I wonder how this new shiny thing does the same thing I can already do in DT3/Scrivener/Tinderbox?’…
I too have spent too much time experimenting.
In my case, I tried hard to use DT as you describe but I have relegated DT to OCR and file conversion for a few reasons. I’m not sure these are valid for others but in my case:
— I worry about having all of my files imported into DT given that others have reported data loss. I have indexed files as well but then it feels like I’m duplicating what already exists in iCloud.
— While the latest version is better than the prior version, I find DTTG to be a poorly designed application. I use my iPad a lot so this is important to me.
— I find trying to take notes in DT (Mac or mobile) to be tedious in DT’s editor. It works, but is not a great experience.
So, I’ve landed on trying to keep everything in iCloud, syncing and backing up everything, and using plain text/md for nearly everything as much as possible.
Regarding Scrivener, it is a great program but I don’t like needing to sync with DropBox because I will run out of free space and I don’t want to pay Dropbox’s high subscription cost. This is why I have gravitated toward trying to use Obsidian for long-form writing, along with all of the advantages of having my stuff in plain text. But, as I’ve posted elsewhere, I’m missing important features that programs like Scrivener and Ulysses provide.
I’ve come to the conclusion that every choice is a compromise. I just have to decide which compromises I’m willing to make.
I understand your dilemmas…
I think I may have mentioned this before, but I wonder if Scrivener’s External Folder Sync feature would go a way towards squaring your circle? Use Scrivener on the desktop, and iA Writer / Obsidian / Byword / Something New and Shiny to work on the .md files in iCloud Drive on the iPad. I do this even on the desktop when I’m in the Emacs for Everything part of my cycle.
There are a couple of wrinkles, but essentially for the book you’re using markdown to write and Scrivener to organise and compile the manuscript. It can be really powerful. Just a thought if you’ve not explored the idea. (If you’re interested, I can put together a quick howto if that would help?)