With both iOS and Android sporting similar apps and features, it's creative design and clever animations that's driving competition between the platforms. Each platform is constantly updating with powerful tools and components to make up-to-date mobile apps really stand out. With the intense competition in the app stores and waning apathy of users, developing something striking is critical.
It takes an experienced creative developer to handle this challenge, which is a role I've held for the last six years. I'm an Android UI developer.
Most developers are familiar with the role of the UI Developer when it comes to web. They're often responsible for the look and feel of the working site while generally interacting between the design and development teams.
I could write a book on Android UI development, but you guys don't have time to read an entire book so I'll just add a little of my background so you get an idea of how it has worked in the real world for me, and then list the highlights.
My Experience as an app UI developer
Like a web UI developer, I managed the front end of several Android apps, focusing on UI components and design.
For my start-up I was also the product designer so I'd design the product, create mock-ups, and then build working layouts in Android Studio. From here the dev team would wire them up to data while I iterated on the design strictly through code and testing.
Later, when I joined a medium-sized development team, I took responsibility for the look and feel of the Android app. Part of this was the conversion to Android 5.0 and Material design, but I also optimized common layouts, components, and standardized design styles. More important, I saved a lot of time and frustration for the rest of the dev team by effectively handling creative choices and concerns in the code.
Who becomes an app UI developer?
- ex-Flash developers (huge!)
- web UI developers
- creative developers
Position / role
- part of the development team
- operate as front end developer specializing in UI development
- work direct with product and design teams throughout product life-cycle
- use same tools & code as developers / designers
- build working prototypes
- rapid feature testing and updates
- strong UI dev can usually support entire dev team(s)
- specializes in UI but can contributes to entire app
- relieve development team of design issues
- responsible for look & feel of final product
- fanatical about design style, components, and features (i.e. Material Design)
- specialize in layouts, styles, image, and other resources
- develop custom layout components
- provide enchantment / wow factor (critical!)
- interactions, animations & transitions
- multi-platform (iOS / Android)
- multi-screen solutions (phone, tablet, phablet)
- multi-device solutions (device, laptop, smartwatch, auto)
- standardize components, styles, and resources across dev teams
- develop technical design docs
Product / design consultant
- often advise product and design teams throughout product life-cycle
- relieve dev team from design concerns
- recommend platform specific features
- identify general UI / UX flaws
- identify platform design inconsistencies
- identify costly design concepts and suggest alternatives
- knowledgeable solutions for multi-screen layout
- targeted solutions for multi-platform
- creative solutions for multi-device
- eliminate hand-off / waterfall frustration
Tools / code
- Android Studio, Xcode
- Adobe Creative Suite, Sketch
Working model prototyping
- NOT a throwaway prototype
- create an actual working prototype in Android Studio / Xcode
- native code!
- ready-to-use layouts, styles, assets, and components
- fast turnaround for initial prototype (usually in a single sprint)
- makes it easy for ALL teams to actively use and test what is being built
- resolve unexpected issues prior to months-long, deep development commitment
- continued development with dev team (safe hand-off, no waterfall)
Feature testing & updates
- iterative design through code and testing
- redesigns are faster since styles are standardized and easily changed
- quickly take advantage of new platform features
- test new features without affecting core app
- A/B testing
That's a pretty big list. Over time I may go through and explain each section in fuller detail. In the coming year or so you should expect to see more about app UI developers and how they are essential to a solid mobile team.
The bottom line is savings. Now that we're in Apps 2.0, we may need to reexamine the waterfall / hand-off approach to app development. I've heard of companies that roll out the entire design team and dev team to get together to work out common UX and UI issues. It often doesn't work because it's committee thinking - which is the opposite of agile. More important, it's extremely expensive & wasteful.
In the long game, it's far more efficient and far less expensive to hire an app UI developer.
And I'm available.