Part 1 of 3: Starting a Mobile Design Project

I love publication design.

I love the short timelines, small budgets, and all the elements that have to come together.

I hate a blank canvas—too many possibilities.

But the more restrictions, the more obvious the solution becomes.

And when I do my job well, I can prove it.

I can show my value, because there are measurable results.


More magazines are sold, more readers, more advertisers. Even the velocity of pick up points to the success of the design.

Designing for mobile is a publication designer’s dream.

All the things I love are there:

Short timelines, small budgets, tons of elements and analytics to prove success.

But one thing is even more exciting: the rules haven’t been written yet.

When you go to pick up a book, you don’t have to figure out if it’s horizontal or vertical. You know where the front is, the back, you can flip right to the middle. With mobile, the designer’s job is more necessary.

When mobile started, it was much like web. There were companies that immediately wanted a mobile presence, regardless of the experience. Anyone that could create apps had work. Adobe DPS was a great gateway for print designers comfortable with InDesign. DPS and other platforms allowed designers to create without knowing code.

Suddenly there was a demand for UX specialists, UI experts, Information Architects. The titles intimidated many designers. How could you claim to do UX or UI when you couldn’t articulate the difference? Fancy titles aside, all those positions are trying to do what any good thinking designer does: create the most effective design solutions, in this case, mobile experiences.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re designing for print or web or mobile. The designers that ask the right questions win.

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What are the desired outcomes?
  3. What are the obstacles?
  4. How can you help users get what they need?

First: Audience. This is the same question you ask when designing for print. Is it for internal folks? External? What tone? Is it a guide, a tool, or meant for marketing?

But unlike print and web, now you need to understand if your audience is digital natives or digital immigrants. Where do they fall on that curve? You need to create a design that is not dumbed down for the digital natives while being super clear and intuitive for the immigrants.

This is the challenge. This is what makes it so fun.

With new “norms” all the time, the trick is to stay up on the ever-changing norms without losing your ability to empathize with digital immigrants?

Tip: User Testing

When you are first designing for mobile, user testing is a very humbling experience. No matter how obvious you think your design is, users will discover how to navigate in ways that you haven’t factored in. It’s your job to make sure they don’t get lost and are always able to figure out where to go—easily.

What is the Desired Outcome?

What is the goal? Is the app to further the brand? Is it a tool for a salesperson?

Is it a tool to find a piece of information quickly? Or is it meant to be browsed until coming to the topic of interest, then a deep dive? These are very different uses.

What are the Obstacles?

Is the app meant to be used on location, which might be very dark or very bright? Does it need to be used for different audiences, with different needs?

How do you help the users get the content they need?

This is the ongoing tug-of-war between aesthetics and utility. If it were only about appearance, then we’d all be fine artists. The designer’s job is to help the user get what they need. If that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter how nice it looks it has failed. And thus, the single most important consideration is the navigation.

The design can’t start until the navigation is figured out.

Kat Topaz headshot

A firm believer that strong design drives readership, extends brands and just plain makes a difference, Kat Topaz has redesigned hundreds of publications nationwide and repositioned countless brands to huge critical, and financial success. At 6D, Kat applies those same principles to the mobile space, working closely with UX and UI teams to design for every type of mobile strategy. With Kat’s large network of clients and ability to attract top tier talent, design is not an afterthought at 6D. It’s a driving force in the mobile experiences we create.