There is little on this planet that inspires me more than the collective greatness of New York City. The fashion, the architecture, and the motion of the city have captivated artists and designers for centuries. The city is the perfect muse for mobile design because every neighborhood has something unique to offer and, like technology, New York is constantly evolving and reinventing itself.
Wayfinding in Central Park
What’s the best way to guide people through an environment – Central Park, for example – with limited signage or direction? In urban planning, the concept of wayfinding is the way in which we orient ourselves and navigate from one place to the next. Users don’t give these subtle design elements much thought, but building a natural flow is a true art form in urban planning, architecture, and even app design.
In the digital space, we use information architecture to shape our apps and user experiences instead of tangible signs. Wire framing is the traditional starting point for app development, but it doesn’t show you how users got there or where they’ve been. It’s a transition state that doesn’t think about the user. I urge all of our developers to create user flows first. In order to produce a quality app, design with users in mind, as if you’re leading them through Central Park.
Timeless Elegance in Menswear Street Style
I really love observing what people are wearing in New York City. Menswear is an obvious interest of mine and influences the way I approach design. A beautifully designed outfit, whether it is a brown leather brogue or a Prince of Wales three-piece suit, is timeless. They don’t bow down to current fads. And the same is true for well-designed apps.
The apps that stand the test of time are the ones that adhere to recognized design principles. If you look at the current Google apps, Maps in particular, you will notice there are no unnecessary bits of clutter or overly designed elements.
In fashion and app design, small details like the stitching on a blazer or the placement of text can set you apart from the crowd. As a designer, I look to achieve elegance in subtle areas others may not have even considered. These small details are always appreciated – even if they are indiscernible to the user.
The Craftsmanship of Old-World Architecture
The sense of polish and refinement found in carefully put together menswear ensembles is second only to the craftsmanship of old-world style architecture. The Victoria era of architecture is especially inspiring: Every window, column, and base was handcrafted. It’s a level of care that rarely exists in modern buildings built for utility.
One locale in particular that embodies this level of architectural expertise is the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. SoHo’s beauty can be found in the cast-iron facades that grace many of its buildings – a relic of the Industrial Revolution. Though these buildings are old, they have stood the test of time and overwhelm us with a sense of nostalgia for a period of craftsmanship long gone.
I strive to achieve that same level of craftsmanship in app design. Many designers transitioning from Web to mobile neglect the details of comfortable text size and correct button placement. If a user accidentally hits “delete” instead of “send,” that’s a design flaw. Now, buttons within iOS 7 look more like hyperlinks. They’re bigger and easier to press, which improves the user experience.
The Grit and Glamour of Crosby Street, NYC
Designers are always on the lookout for aesthetics that capture a certain mood. There is a particular street in New York that I gravitate toward when searching for design inspiration: Crosby Street exists “off the beaten path” – a parallel offshoot of the highly-trafficked Broadway.
Though the area surrounding it is full of tourists, Crosby Street retains its calm charm. Its cobblestoned streets attract stylish denizens of the city who often stop to be photographed by street-style bloggers such as The Sartorialist. With Crosby Street as the backdrop, these photographs embody the perfect collision of New York City’s grit and glamour.
This distinct aesthetic can carry over to app design, as well. Givenchy recently transitioned to a more alternative look, and the fashion brand’s new iOS app reflects this perfectly with its mix of strong imagery, a monochromatic color scheme, and rough textures. That mixture of grit and glamour helps create an app that stands out from other fashion apps and reinforces the brand identity and current artistic direction of Givenchy.
Inspiration for design is all around us and comes from the simplest of things. What matters most is observing and executing a vision with elegance and meticulous attention to detail. Design should be beautiful yet understated. Great things happen when we step back from the screen and allow ourselves to be inspired by the everyday, unexpected things around us.