How to Be an App Designer
Last updated on August 19, 2021 by Nick Patrocky

Are you a freelance designer, struggling to make money off of your design skills? Are you overwhelmed with the number of apps in the app store and don’t know which design style is best? Do you find yourself asking “How do I become an app designer?”

If so, then this blog post is for you. This article will provide insights into how to be an app designer from actual professionals who have been there themselves. You’ll learn about hints and tips that can help turn your freelancing career around! 

You’ll also learn: The best way to get started designing apps; How long it takes on average to design an app; And what are some things designers should keep in mind when providing feedback for their developers.

1. What is an app designer and what do they do?

If you own a smartphone, you use multiple mobile apps on a daily basis. Everybody does. 

The main point of using an application is to help you accomplish something. 

That could be as important as organizing your daily schedule or as simple as entertaining you for a few minutes. 

App design is a mixture of art and science and requires much more than just visual flair. 

To successfully design mobile apps, you really need to understand human behavior. 

Most app designers do 2 things:

  • Create the visual design for an app.

This includes the look and feel of an app, as well as its overall branding and style. Create icons, logos, backgrounds, buttons, etc., that bring life to a design.

  • Develop the interaction design for an app.

This involves figuring out how people should interact with the app, what they will do on each screen, and how it works as a whole. This can involve things like task flows and decision trees.

Most app designers have worked in the design industry for many years before working on apps. The reason is that most of the problems faced with app design are not all that different from web and software design. 

People who have experience designing software and websites can pick up working on an app fairly easily.

2.  Benefits of being a professional app designer

Money

App design is a lucrative career and new businesses are popping up all over the world.  

If you can successfully design mobile apps for companies that keep their customers engaged, you’ll never go without work. 

Virtually every business on the planet is moving towards a more mobile-friendly customer experience. 

The demand for competent app designers is only going to increase for the foreseeable future.

Location Independence

You don’t need to be physically located in the same office as somebody in order to be a successful app designer.

Mobile app designers could be located anywhere in the world. 

Personally, I’ve worked with clients on every continent but Antarctica.

It really doesn’t matter anymore. I can easily share my designs with somebody halfway across the world and they’ll come across just as easily as if we were in the same room together.

Creative Freedom

Taking an app idea from inception to a finished product is an exciting process.

Being an app designer means you’re in charge of how the app looks and works. 

This gives you a lot of creative freedom when deciding which direction to go.

Your mobile developers and software developers are going to build what you design. 

You’re making the decisions, and they’re going to implement them.

It doesn’t matter if you’re designing an IOS app or an Android app, you’re at the helm, deciding how this app is going to work in the real world. 

No Need for Formal Education

You don’t need a computer science degree.

You don’t need to know multiple programming languages.

You don’t need a bachelor’s degree.

To be an app designer, there’s absolutely zero formal education requirements. 

You really just need a lot of common sense to be successful designing apps.

3. Tips for getting started in the world of app design

Learn the basics of mobile app development

If you design mobile apps professionally, you’re going to constantly be working with mobile app developers. These are the people who will take your designs and turn them into a functioning reality on either iOS or Android.

They might go by these names:

  • Mobile app developer
  • App developer
  • Software developer
  • Android Developer
  • ios Developer
  • Software engineer
  • And more…

You don’t need to be able to program yourself, but when somebody brings up certain “buzz words”, you need to know what they’re talking about. This means being familiar with coding basics. Just the core concepts.

These are the people who will have computer science degrees and know multiple programming languages. If you want to easily be able to work with and communicate your ideas to these people, you need to speak their language. 

These Are The Only 4 Steps You Need To Get Started Designing Apps

  1. Learn UX/UI design Basics
  1. Practice
  1. Build a Portfolio
  1. Find people who need design help & convince them to Hire You

4. Resources to help you learn more about designing apps

We live in an amazing age where anybody with an internet connection can learn about any topic for free (or with a very small amount of money)!

Even complex topics and extremely technical skill sets can be learned if you’re dedicated enough to spend the hours needed to learn.

Here are just a few of my favorite resources to learn how to become a mobile app designer:

Udemy

Udemy is an online learning platform that has thousands of courses on almost any topic you can think of. 

Udemy has particularly good courses on how to break into UX/UI design and in particular, how to get started designing apps.

Youtube 

Bar none, YouTube has the biggest selection of free tutorials anywhere in the world. 

If you have absolutely zero dollars to invest in learning app design, you can turn to Google and learn anything you need for free. 

The only downside of using a free resource like YouTube is that it’s going to take more legwork on your part to find worthwhile information. 

On the other hand, if you pay for premium courses through a platform like Udemy, you can rest assured that the course creator spent a lot of time and energy thinking through and designing their course so that should get the most value for your time.

Books

Here are my top five books on how to get started as an app designer:

Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products & Services

The book is written by several app designers and offers different tips, tricks and hints for future app designers. It gives great insight into what it’s like to be a professional app designer. The book also provides some information about the thought process behind UX design for apps.

Laying The Foundations: How to Design Websites and Products Systematically

The book is about how to be an app designer. In particular, it focuses on creating amazing design systems. It includes hints, tips, and illustrations from award-winning app designers on how to design products systematically. It teaches the professionals’ secrets and strategies for efficient software and website design that make their projects stand out.

Intuitive Design: Eight Steps to an Intuitive UI by Everett N. McKay

Intuitive Design: Eight Steps to an Intuitive UI is a guide targeted at developers who aren’t experts in user interface design. The book begins by outlining the four crucial elements of intuitive design. Then it moves into a deeper discussion of each one, with concrete examples and case studies, how to avoid pitfalls and mistakes that can lead to an unintuitive UI.

The author, Everett McKay, is committed to making intuitiveness a reality. He thoroughly analyzes all aspects of intuitive interfaces and then leaves readers with a tangible definition of what “intuitiveness” means as well as eight stages for creating an intuitive design.

The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded

The book talks about how the design of everything from objects to buildings are created and what designers can do to improve them. 

I found this book to be very helpful when I started designing my first app because it gave me insights into how other people make apps and what they care about as app creators. 

There were also exercises in the back of the book that helped put some of the concepts into practice. 

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to become a professional app designer or just learn more about design in general.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

The book is written by Steve Krug, and it is not an introduction to web design. 

Instead, it is a guide to designing websites that are usable. 

The free download has drawn the attention of professionals in the field of graphics and web design. 

There are some detailed illustrations that show how to conduct usability testing of websites in order to achieve a balance between security features and ease of use. 

These animations were created using Alice 3D software and are very useful for beginners who want to learn about usability in relation to its contribution towards website design.

Talk With a Successful Mobile App Developer

One of my other favorite resources to learn app design is to speak with people on the other end of the process. 

Seasoned app developers will have a lot of experience working with app designers and can usually give you very good insights into how to break into app design. 

5. The best places to find freelance work as an app designer 

Upwork

Upwork is a freelancing site that allows you to connect with international customers. A customer can offer an app design project on the website. It will show you the specifications of the app, the timeline they have for completing it, and the cost. If you accept the offer, you will be given one day to a few weeks to agree upon their terms and conditions before starting work on the project.

These are my best practices for getting a job quick:

– Treat every opportunity as an interview – be professional!

– Spend time with managers- learn their needs, what they look for in employees/consultants.

– Take care of your web/social media presence – this is how potential employers will make a first impression of you!

– Be prepared

Freelancer

Freelancer is a website that connects app designers with people who have app development projects for them.

Freelancer has different ways of helping out the designers. They have both regular projects and open contest. Contest allow multiple different Freelancers to submit their designs for consideration. 

While they may not have the largest contracts, it’s still pretty helpful in getting your foot in the door.

Toptal

Toptal is one of the best platforms for hiring freelance app designers. They have a talented pool of designers, programmers, and generalists. Toptal offers 24×7 availability which means that client’s can get to you within 24 hours of engaging. 

There are two payment models provided by Toptal:

The standard model is comparable to other freelance platforms. On the other hand, premium service comes with a flat monthly fee regardless of how much work you’re giving out or getting done. 

It’s easy to find app design clients or app programmers on Toptal. 

The hard part about Toptal is that in order to join the freelancing talent pool, you have to pass the rigorous screening process. 

This ensures they only have the top 3% of professionals. 

If you get past this demanding screening process, you’ll have no problems getting consistent work.

99designs

99designs is a global online marketplace with a network of over 400,000 designers that is split into two types: Professional and Crowds. This website provides people with the opportunity to create their own app designs for a fee of $199.

The site not only provides access to designers but also offers other services including marketing and advertising.

You can also post your own project for someone else to design it. 

Designhill

Designhill is similar to 99designs in the way that it is an online marketplace for designers, however where this site differs is in the capability of being able to show off your design competitions on social media sites such as Facebook. It also allows designers to be paid through Paypal.

Conclusion:

The more you know about designing apps, the better chances you’ll have of getting a job that will advance your career. 

Take the time today to learn more about how to become an app designer and which direction to go in so that you can get closer to your goals! 

Being an app designer is a rewarding and fulfilling career. 

If you are passionate about apps, have excellent design abilities, and want to make money from your skills, it’s time to get started! 

With the help of this guide, I’m sure you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional app designer in no time!

About the Author Nick Patrocky

My name's Nick and I'm the lead product designer at a fintech startup. I write about freelancing online & also review mobile apps, web apps, and websites.

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