I’ve spent countless hours researching and designing the project I’m about to present to our client. I sent out the meeting agenda listing specific items I’ll cover during the meeting, and reviewed project deliverables. I’m also ready to share sound reasons for every design decision made so far on the project.

Our client just dialed in. Even though we aren’t in the same physical location for today’s meeting, I’m walking around the conference room just like I would if I were presenting my designs in person to them. As I walk around, I create a narrative for the client using personas and scenarios to describe exactly how my designs meet the project’s needs. The developer I’m working with is taking detailed notes, allowing me to focus on what I’m saying without having to worry I’ll miss important client feedback I’ll need later. 

As soon as the call is over I review the meeting notes, and send a recap email to our client summarizing what we discussed, as well as next steps for all parties. I’m confident I did everything I needed to do to ensure my presentation on the call was successful.

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In the past year and a half, there have been at least thirteen significant changes in the mobile space that alter the way we design and develop mobile solutions. In 2015, we expect to see even more. While there is no way to know exactly what will happen with mobile in 2015, we’ve got a few ideas and predictions to share, as well as some ‘To Dos’ to help you prepare for mobile this year.

1. Mobile as a Platform

A decade ago Steve Jobs famously positioned the Mac as a “digital hub,” a kind of entertainment platform with peripherals like the iPod. Today, the smartphone is that hub and a number of innovative new technologies are acting as its peripherals. We’re seeing Android move onto your wrist, onto your television, and into your car. With Android Wear, Chrome Cast, Android TV, and Android Auto, you’ve got one unified operating system (Android) behaving similarly across devices of all shapes and sizes. The best part is that these separate platforms are designed to be extensions of your phone, so existing Android users will be naturally at home in these other environments. Similarly, Apple’s Watch and Apple TV function primarily as extensions of your iPhone.

To Do: Reset your consumer and enterprise-facing digital strategies to use the smartphone as the primary center of communication, and other devices (e.g. Apple Watch, Android Wear, etc.) as additional media delivery platforms associated with the phone.

2. Productivity in Unexpected Places

This year we’ll begin to see mobile make its way into more and more processes that may not traditionally be thought of as areas ripe for innovation. For example, mobile devices and applications can be used on manufacturing lines to measure productivity, and to reduce time spent getting data into the hands of plant managers to help them make effective decisions. Almost every process in every company can be streamlined using mobile.

To Do: Think about key processes in your company, what their target…

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The ability to write high-quality bug reports is an essential skill of software testing professionals everywhere. Apart from descriptive summary, precise steps to reproduce an expected behavior, test environment, priority and frequency; attachments such as images, videos, and log files all act as excellent supplementary materials in a good bug report.

For desktop applications, screen recording software tools like Jing are often used, but screen recording tools for mobile applications are not widely known about. Here are some tips and tricks to create great screen recordings for devices running Android and iOS:

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Recently, I published a blog post about the importance of teaching clients your design process. But why should you have a design process at all? What makes a good one for that matter? And what does the design process at WillowTree look like?

Why Do I Need a Design Process? 

A design process is absolutely necessary for every project you work on. Here are three very important reasons why:

1 – It Sets Clear Expectations

When you share what the design process looks like with your client, it allows you to establish realistic project deliverables and deadlines together. Your client will know exactly what to expect from you and when to expect it, eliminating needless miscommunication later.

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Animating Views and Fragments has been a staple of developing beautiful, immersive Android apps since the start. With each new version, Google has added a variety of improvements to the animation framework to make adding thoughtful animations more straight forward.

Animating views, animating scenes of multiple views, and animating properties of views is much easier than it used to be. In the past, a major pain point of animating Android apps was always Activity transitions. We could animate the entire activity transition and views in each Activity, but it was another story to animate shared UI components between Activities. Now, Android 5.0 Lollipop has solutions for just that, with the Activity Transition API.

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I had a conversation with a client the other day that caught me a little off guard. He was interested in a brand new app for his company, and we got around to talking about what he could expect from me during the first week of the design phase. His first question for me was, “I can see some awesome designs by the end of the week, right?

Understandably, he was concerned with what the app would look like, what colors would be used, and how big the logo would be. Now keep in mind, this was a completely new app that didn’t exist yet. I sat him down and explained that visual design is only one part of the app design process, and I’d need to do a lot of work before I could think about what it would look like. I explained that the other part of the process is behind-the-scenes work that ultimately informs every aspect of the app’s visual aesthetic. And that this part of the process is why we are called user experience (UX) designers, and not just designers at WillowTree.

To him, design was all about the visual aspect of the app. Is this a misconception? Absolutely. Can I blame him for thinking this way? Not for a second. To almost everyone, design is what makes something look good and not much more than that. It’s all about the pretty colors and fancy photography that help make a product look attractive. That’s what we’ve all been taught since we were young.

But outward-facing design is only one side of the coin. The other side of design is in-depth research, user interviews, creating user personas, and wireframes. It’s all about understanding the product, who it’s for, and what problems you are trying to solve for the product’s users. Without exploring and learning about all of this, there’s no way to know if the final product will be successful or not.


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WillowTree Apps, Inc., a leading provider of mobile application strategy, design, and development services, is pleased to announce it has rebranded as WillowTree, Inc.® and adopted “Mission-Critical Mobile Solutions” as its new tagline. The company also unveiled its new logo and announced plans to roll out additional changes to its website in the coming months.

“We are very excited to announce our formal rebranding to WillowTree, Inc.” said Tobias Dengel, CEO of WillowTree. “Our new tagline highlights our focus on helping clients leverage the rapid growth of mobile in ways that are critical to their business success. Examples include helping AOL reinvent their sales team tools, helping Rexel, a leading electrical supplies distributor, create a direct mobile relationship with their clients, and helping a leading beverage company re-engineer how their field technicians interact with vending machines.”

“Over the past three years our team has grown tremendously, and we’ve continued honing our expertise as leaders in field solutions, mobile platform engineering and media delivery to become one of the top mobile application service providers in the US. This rebrand is a milestone that celebrates our growth, as well as our enthusiasm for our upcoming digital projects in 2015.”

Since 2007, WillowTree’s team of mobile strategists, user experience (UX) designers, and software engineers have worked with leading companies throughout the world to create mobile solutions that effectively bridge the highest-level of consumer UX with enterprise-grade deployments that are secure and scalable.

“We’re living in a time when the physical and digital worlds are intersecting, and it’s all driven by mobile,” said Michael Prichard, CTO of WillowTree. “Our team is already working with companies and our partners to design and build products that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT). While apps are a still critical part of our offering, the name change reflects what we have been doing for some time now; moving beyond native apps into complete digital systems and platforms that are driven…

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Apple released WatchKit last week, and our iOS team has already begun developing a few Watch apps. It’s still too early to know if we’ll look back at this week and call it a seminal one the way we did when Apple released its original iOS kit to developers in 2008. But we think there’s a good chance. Especially given that Morgan Stanley analyst, Katy Huberty, said in a recent note to investors that 30 million Apple Watches in the first year might be a “conservative” number.

So what do you need to know?

More functionality than expected

Many developers expected only basic functionality with the release of WatchKit, predicting complete functionality to arrive next summer when version 2.0 comes out. Apple, however, has pleasantly surprised us by including actionable notifications to controls, glances, Handoff, and more. We’ll explain what all this means below, but the bottom line is that we have much more control over the Apple Watch than we originally thought we would.

The basic architecture

Think of the Watch as a custom “view” of the information on the iPhone, with some basic ability to interact. The iPhone contains the code that actually makes everything happen, including reacting to taps, changing values, etc. The brilliance is that everything happens in the background via Bluetooth — so from a development perspective, we are not developing to two devices, but instead to another screen from the core device.

So, for this first version, we should really not be thinking of the Watch being able to run apps, but instead just extensions of existing iPhone apps.  We expect true independent Watch apps to arrive summer of 2015.

New approach to layout

Apple’s come up with a completely different approach to layout, which we think is brilliant given the small screen size.  You basically use “groups” that are either vertical, horizontal or nested.  Then you can apply some styling like background color, margins, etc.

Notifications & Glances

Our position continues to be that…

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A Note on NDAs – while an Apple developer account with NDA is required to download Xcode betas and actually use WatchKit, all of the reference documentation is publicly available at this link.  The programming guide is similarly available publicly here. Since all of this information is public, we don’t have to worry about NDA trouble.

From a developer point of view, WatchKit provides a very bare-bones framework for building watch apps; the kit contains a grand total of 15 classes, including 11 subclasses of WKInterfaceObject  which represent UI elements like buttons and labels. Each of these, in turn, presents an extraordinarily simple interface consisting of two to five “write-only” setFoo:  methods with no way to obtain current state. By far the most complicated WatchKit object, WKinterfaceController  (the rough equivalent of UIViewController ) has 27 methods and properties; contrast this with UIViewController’s 90! There are…

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The hamburger icon has become a frequently used icon in mobile apps and websites ever since Facebook released it in September of 2013 as a part of their A/B tests. Today, it has many other names: list icon, navigation menu, triple bar, stack menu, basement menu and the list goes on…


The icon represents a hidden side menu users’ cannot see from an app’s main view. When users tap on the icon, however, a menu slides open to reveal the app’s main navigation.


There is a great deal of criticism surrounding this three-horizontal-line icon. Some UX designers argue that users don’t intuitively know what the icon represents, or how it works. Another argument against the usage of the icon is that  hiding an app’s main navigation leads to lower discoverability as users cannot see the navigation options available to them consistently. Users must tap the icon and dive into the app’s side menu in order to access any other content in the app. Once they close the side menu, they are left with no contextual cues letting them know where they are in the app, or the choices available to them as the menu is now off the screen. This also ties into the fact that side menus are not easily glancable, requiring users to take action (e.g. tap the icon) to open the menu and see the options and notifications they might have.

But with each piece of criticism comes a respected justification for using the icon and side menu. One could easily protest the fact that users don’t intuitively understand the icon and say that like most patterns, the hamburger icon will become better understood as time passes.  Because it’s a “new” icon, there might need to be a period of learning and user acceptance before users become completely comfortable with this icon and pattern.

A user’s understanding of what the icon represents also depends on…

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Recent advancements from Google are making it easy and more exciting to implement new interactions into apps. With the release of their latest OS (5.0 Lollipop) and updated design guidelines, it’s clear one of the main principles Google is focusing on is motion:

“Motion is meaningful and appropriate, serving to focus attention and maintain continuity. Feedback is subtle yet clear. Transitions are efficient yet coherent.”  Google Design Guidelines

Basically, they’re encouraging us as designers to think more intentionally about using motion to create the kind of transitions and small interaction details that delight users, but also serve a functional purpose.

Using After Effects

Motion is a critical component of the user experience that’s often overlooked by UX designers. When it is thought about, it’s often difficult for designers to communicate how and when different design components should move, and how they should interact with other elements. Sure, some default animations are simple to explain, but more complex and unique interactions are not always easy to present and detail in static comps, which brings me to this point:

Every UX designer should know how to use After Effects.

You don’t need to know all the ins and outs like you do with Photoshop or Illustrator, but you should have a basic understanding of After Effects so you can easily and articulately communicate the meaning and purpose behind interactions to clients, as well as the developers you work with.

Common Complaints

Some of you may be reading this thinking, “But Jesse, learning After Effects is too hard” or “it takes too much time.” While these statements might be true, they only apply if you’re really diving into the more powerful features that After Effects provides.

Learning After Effects only takes watching a couple short video tutorials to help get you started. Lynda.com has some great After Effects training tutorials, as does Video Copilot (though they tend to be a bit more…

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s-hq-img1We’re pleased to announce that WillowTree, along with Macerich, and HGTV have teamed up to bring a visit to Santa into the mobile age this holiday season. Santa HQ, an interactive North Pole adventure, is an immersive and cutting-edge experience for children and families.

Macerich worked with WillowTree to revamp a traditional holiday experience by giving visitors insight into the world of Santa in a way that it’s never been done before.

“Our goal at Macerich is to enhance the customer experience in every way possible, and we seek out exceptional partners who share our passion and want to deliver exciting new opportunities that guests can’t find anywhere else,” said Ken Volk, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Macerich.

The attraction places Santa’s headquarters directly inside the mall, and instead of a conventional area for photo opportunities with Santa, families can tour through Santa’s workshop using unique and high-tech applications. WillowTree created Android apps built around two interactive experiences for children and parents alike to enjoy. Visitors who download the mobile applications or use one of the provided tablets on location at Santa HQ have a portal to experience magical displays that creatively marry the physical world with technology.


The Naughty or Nice O’Meter, for example, interactively scans parents and children to determine if they’ve landed on Santa’s naughty or nice list this year. After entering their names in the app, guests can watch two large screens dynamically scroll through Santa’s list, making it seem as if names were streaming directly from the North Pole.


“Taking advantage of Android’s flexibility also allowed us to incorporate Santa HQ light and sound shows into the Naughty or Nice O’Meter application, creating an even more engaging experience for families that you simply can’t get anywhere else,” said Derek Brameyer, WillowTree’s Lead Android Developer…

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