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Android Design Corner: Functional Design

Design Corner - Functional Design

In the first article of the Android Design Corner series we looked at the very basic definition of design, and where Android’s current state fell within those terms. But that was simply an introduction. Today we go beyond the basic definition and begin to lay the foundation for what design really is.

Two Sides to a Single Coin

First, however, a line needs to be set and understood. There are two aspects to design: functional and visual. Functional design encompasses the way that something works: the flow, content, and functionality. The look, feel, and emotion generally comes into play from the visual design. We will eventually dive deeper into visual design, but because visual is highly dependent upon function, today the focus will be on functional design.

There are two aspects to design: functional and visual.

Now, part of me hates to break it down into these categories because, in the end, both are immensely intertwined and dependent upon each other. Yet, there is a distinct difference that needs to be made between the two.

With that understanding in place, we are going to begin by taking a step backward in time.

Lessons From Cavemen

The word technology is highly misunderstood in today’s culture. Technology is just knowledge and tools created to solve problems of the current era, and thus; the designing of technology runs incredibly deep into history. Every technology dating back to the caveman’s club has been designed in some form or fashion.


The first caveman to grab a large stick to use as a club probably decided that it should have a thin end for holding and a wider end to hit things with. This caveman knew the purpose of the object, to hit things, and understood the constraint of the size of his hand to hold the stick. By pairing these two ideas together, the purpose and constraints, the caveman was able to design the type of tool that he needed.

Now, saying that a caveman designed his club is a rather dumb statement, but it shows the basic thought process behind design.

Design Within Purpose and Constraint

In the design process, one has to create technology with purpose in mind, while at the same time overcoming the constraints in order to fashion the right object for interacting with.

Purpose sits at the forefront of design. Whenever crafting and creating anything, the purpose of that technology needs to be known and evaluated in every decision. If a caveman decided to make a club, but chose a short thin stick, he obviously missed the purpose of a club.

Purpose should always be at the forefront of every decision

Most people understand the idea of creating with purpose and, on a basic level, will adhere to it as common sense. The main idea that needs to be reiterated is that purpose should always be at the forefront of every decision. However, like most of life, there are always boundaries to stay within.

The next big idea within functional design is constraint. To keep definitions simple, a constraint is simply a limitation. Constraints set the guidelines and boundaries to the sandbox of ideas in which we are working.

Observing the example of cavemen, we established that the purpose of a club was to hit things as hard as possible. So, it would follow that a bigger and wider stick would always be better. However, a caveman has the limitation of the size of his hand and has to work within this constraint.  Thus, a thinner end to hold enters the design.

The Basic Design Process

The design process is cyclical. At its core, it’s simply this: set a goal, implement to meet the goal, and evaluate to see if the goal has been met.

  • Has the purpose been met?
  • Have the constraints been accounted for?

If not, then repeat with a different implementation. Whenever I start a new project, I sit down and create something like this:


The very first thing I do when starting a new project is figure out the purpose and goals that it has to meet. I always start with functional design before visual. From those decisions, all else flows forth: content, layout, order, and visual style. Once I’ve made some decisions and begun implementation, I stop, evaluate where I’m at, and ask myself the questions above.

But Where Is Android?

This is an Android-focused site and I would venture to guess that anyone still reading this post has interest in design as it relates to Android, but so far I haven’t even mentioned Android or mobile technology once. There is reason for this however; the design process has been utilized since the first technologies of our existence. It isn’t just a process limited to new and exciting technologies. To truly learn great design techniques, we have to look all around us.

stackable chairs

When I first started learning about design, someone had me think about the way that those cheap white stack-able chairs were designed. I thought that it was a ridiculous exercise that had no connection to the way that I would design for Android or current technology; but it does.

The purpose?

To hold the weight of a person sitting in it and to be easily stored

The constraints?

They needed to be cheap and mass produced from a mold.

People do design work everyday without even realizing it. Writers have to perfectly design their thought processes into words to accurately portray ideas. Body builders have to design routines to get results they want. Even activities as mundane as organizing your schedule have elements of design to them.

So then, what other mediums do you design in and what lessons can be learned?

And don’t worry folks –  we are going to talk Android very soon.


Android Authority

Android Design Corner: Beautiful Solutions

Design Corner

 I love beautiful design.  I’m Craig Tuttle, currently studying Computing Technology: Human Factors at Colorado State University, and I’ll be taking a walk through design concepts with you here on Android Authority.

Design. Such a simple word that is so much deeper, crucial, and complicated than many people even know. Most minds generally jump straight to “graphic design” or “stuff that looks good.” And while that is absolutely correct, the word design has a much deeper meaning and use.

A basic definition of design is this: the creation of a plan about an object or idea to be built or created in order to solve a problem.

But that definition itself is a terribly designed definition.  You see, design is Flowing. Feeling. Exciting. Joyous.  All whilst solving problems.  In the Android Design Principles, the first guideline that Google has listed is “Enchant Me” – “Delight me in surprising ways.”

Design is crafting an idea to solve a problem, but in a way that will bring emotion bubbling to the surface within the people who interact with it.

So, a better definition of design is simple: beautiful solutions that produce emotion.

Yes, that was an Apple video. Watch it and move on.

As a student working freelance, I’ve had the privilege this past year of being a game designerweb designer, and videographer. However, all of these link back to my main passion: user experience design. Creative spaces that allow for the designing of experiences is where I love to dream and create.

I also love Android. So to work my passion for experience design together with it I began creating the Fourth Bar Series, a tailored set of Android ROMS for the HTC Amaze and the Galaxy Tab in 2011. More recently I created an Android 5.0 concept video that went semi-viral in Fall 2013.

Design Roots of Mobile Systems

In looking around at designer culture, it’s very easy to tell which operating system designers and creative types prefer. Apple crafts products that naturally attract designers with their beautifully designed hardware and stunning 1st party apps.

For years, iOS was hands down the better designed mobile operating system and from the support of those flocking designers flowed forth beautiful apps with tailored user experiences. Apple’s ecosystem naturally became known as the platform for designers.

Nexus 5 Android 4.4 KitKat Hands On

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Android. Its humble beginnings weren’t focused on beautiful design but rather on the basic designs of the system’s architecture itself. However, this isn’t a bad thing; set in the ground was an excellent cornerstone from which to build.

Finally, after years of refining, Android as an operating system is starting to catch up. That well designed base has been built upon to support a beautiful and excellent user experience. Hardware manufacturers such as HTC have begun crafting beautiful phones. As the design gap between Android and iOS closes, the design quality of the apps in the Android ecosystem must evolve with the operating system.

A Need to Play Catch Up

Evolution-Google-Smartphones Nexus 5 Nexus s Nexus one History

Unfortunately, many Android apps are not evolving and remain outdated. As an open platform, Android attracts many developers with great ideas for functionality whilst leaving out the most crucial element of all: beautiful design.

Without beautiful and intuitive designs, our beloved platform would remain sole domain of the technical genius geeks. It’s a new world that we live in where highly complex machines are sold to people that have absolutely no knowledge of how to operate them. Now more than ever, simple and beautiful design solutions are required for the success of apps and the android ecosystem.

Together with Android Authority, I will be bringing a new series focused on design and its relationship to Android. We’ll be taking a look at design basics, more of the Android Design Guidelines, app design teardowns, as well as the deep histories of design ideas in mobile technology so that hopefully, by the end, you will have a deeper understanding just how important the design process is within building an app.

Let us know what apps you’d like to see torn down, and where you’d like this content series to go!


Android Authority

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