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App Development
8 minutes read

What are the Options for Laying Out a UI on iOS?

by Jose Gomez
App Development
8 minutes read

If you’re building an app for Apple devices, you’re likely wondering what are the options for laying out a UI on iOS? Apple offers a wide array of device options from watches, tablets, phones, computers, and even TV devices. When people find an app they like, they generally want to be able to use it on all of their favorite devices and in different contexts. That is why UI design is a big part of iOS app development.

iOS developers need to account for the various changes in shape and size that occur on the different screens of Apple devices. They also need to be aware and account for how the screen changes from portrait to landscape during use. Other Apple devices, like the iPad, offer users the ability to multitask or split their screens. UI design for iOS apps needs to keep all of the varying native features of Apple products in mind in order to deliver a high-quality app and User Interface experience.  

Luckily, there are tools available to help iOS developers create and implement stunning UI designs. The best tool for iOS UI design is probably Auto Layout. Let’s look at Auto Layout in greater detail, go over some of the UI design considerations that iOS developers should keep in mind, and look briefly at other layout tools. 

What is Auto Layout?

Auto Layout is a constraint-based development tool that allows developers to create adaptive User Interfaces. Auto Layout is essential for modern app development. Without this tool developing apps for iOS devices would be lengthy and laborious. This is due to the sheer amount of different screen sizes available from Apple. Initially, when the iPhone was first released, there was one screen size, and it was 3.5 inches. 

Since the introduction of the iPhone 6 in 2014, Apple has released twenty different iPhone models with screen sizes of 3.5” in, 4” in, 4.7” in, 5.5” in, 6.1” in, and 6.5” in. This doesn’t even account for the different iPad models, MacBook models, or Apple watch models either. Suffice it to say, there are a ton of different iOS screen sizes, and without the aid of Auto Layout, developing a consistent User Interface for your app across all of these devices would be extremely difficult. 

How Does Auto Layout Work?

Auto Layout gives developers the ability to define rules, or layout constraints, for their UI design. For example, a developer could decide to constrain an image so that it is always 3 points below a button regardless of how big the screen is or how it is oriented. Auto Layout uses layout constraints to adjust the User Interface when known environmental variations are detected. These variations are known as traits.  

Developers can use Auto Layout to set their apps to dynamically respond to a number of different traits, including:

  • Screen size 
  • Screen resolution
  • Color gamut 
  • Device orientation
  • Split view
  • Multitasking (on iPad)
  • Dynamic type text changes 
  • International standards (i.e., left to right or right to left presentation, date and time formats, etc.)

When using Auto Layout, you can access a number of premade layout guides that offer developers standard UI design options. You can also create custom layout guides when iOS design inspiration strikes and you want to create something not available in the predefined layout guides. 

Layout Considerations to Keep in Mind 

Now that you know more about how Auto Layout works let’s take a look at some considerations you should keep in mind when using Auto Layout for iOS UI design. When designing User Interfaces, developers should always keep in mind the following:

  • Content clarity
  • Consistency 
  • Balance
  • Alignment 
  • Orientations 
  • Text-size 
  • Touch targets

Content Clarity 

When designing your User Interface and layout constraints, keep your important content at the forefront of your UI design. You don’t want your users to have to scroll left or right in order to read your content. Additionally, your users should never have to zoom in to view your primary images. Primary content needs to be clear at its default size. 

Consistency 

Visual consistency is a major aspect of good UI design. Not only should your app maintain a general visual consistency throughout, but elements that function similarly should maintain similar appearances. Apps with disparate, jumbled visual designs provide a poor User Experience

Balance

Important objects need to be given more visual weight than less important objects. Not only do large objects catch the eye, but they are easier to tap and touch. The principal items inside your app need to have a greater width and height than secondary objects. Your app should also be balanced from left to right in the standard western reading context. 

Alignment

Object alignment allows users to quickly and easily scan for important information, and it communicates an object hierarchy. Think about alignment in terms of order and organization. You want your UI design to look neat and organized, not cluttered and incoherent. 

Orientations

If it is possible, allow your UI design to support both portrait and landscape modes. Users like to use apps in different orientations during different situations. However, it may not be possible or visually coherent to run the app in both modes. For example, many mobile games do not support portrait mode, and on the flip side, apps like Robinhood and other FinTech apps generally don’t support landscape mode. 

Text-size

Text-size changes will occur, and your UI design needs to be prepared to handle that. iOS settings allow users to change text-size settings based on their needs. Your app should be accommodating to users with different text-size needs. Layout constraints may need to be adjusted in order to accommodate various text-size settings. 

Touch Targets

iOS apps get to take advantage of all of the great native touch features present on Apple devices. Developers need to be aware of their touch targets, and the amount of space users have to click on them. It can be very frustrating to try to click on a small or cramped element and get taken to a part of the app you didn’t want to go to. Your interactive elements should have plenty of space for touching and tapping

Other iOS Interface Builders

Everything we have gone through so far has been directly related to Auto Layout. If you want to know what are the options for laying out a UI on iOS, there are other options besides Auto Layout. However, it should be noted that Auto Layout is likely to be the best choice for your iOS development project. Additional interface builder tools include:

  • Sketch
  • InVision
  • Mockups 
  • Figma

Sketch

Sketch is an iOS-based tool that is pretty easy for beginners to learn and implement into their design tools. This interface builder offers designers a lot of different plugin options, the ability to collaborate with their team, and access to a large library of design components. Sketch was created to focus solely on UX and UI design. 

InVision

This tool was created by designers, so it has a lot of different features that design teams love to see and use. InVision is great for building clickable prototypes and mockup UI designs. This tool also gives you the ability to collaborate and communicate with your design team so you can see all notes, edits, and comments in one place. InVision is an intuitive design tool that many people find very easy to learn and use. 

Mockups

This is a simple tool that allows users to create and link interactive components and pages. Mockups is easy to use and understand. This tool offers designers the ability to simply drag and drop elements in their desired locations. Users can use Mockups to create prototypes and mockup UI designs for mobile and desktop applications. This UI design tool also comes with a Sketch integration. 

Figma

Figma is a web-based UI design tool. This makes using it easier since you won’t have to worry about installation, updates, etc. Figma gives users the ability to scale their designs for any screen size or project requirement. There is a team library that allows groups to easily share design templates and components. Plus, designers can also create prototypes and UI designs for apps. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to laying out the UI for iOS devices, designers have a number of different tools at their disposal that makes creating adaptive UI designs easy. The best tool for iOS UI design is easily Auto Layout, but designers have other options too. If you’re unsure about how to proceed with your development project, speak with a development partner that can offer you guidance and industry experience. UI design is one of the most important aspects of app development. You cannot afford to overlook this critical component of your application.

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