Designing Mobile Apps
Index of contents

Loren Brichter: Thinking Outside the Box

In the world of app design and development, there are few pacesetters. Not many people have broken the rules to solve problems in new, unconventional ways and proposed really inventive concepts. Loren Brichter, called the “high priest of app design” by the Wall Street Journal, has transformed the industry.

Learn desing systems
Check this online course on Domestika to keep growing as designer.
More information

Loren has built an enviable resume before even hitting the age of 30. A few years ago at Apple, he helped design the software that was installed in the first iPhone. He told us about his participation in the project:

My job was very deep in the software stack, working on low level graphics code that enabled higher levels UI mechanisms to function. It was an honor being part of the project.

Apple isn’t the only big name he’s worked for. He also spent time at Twitter, having caught the microblogging network’s attention with a personal project, Tweetie.

Currently, Brichter works out of Philadelphia with his own company, Atebits, away from technology epicenter Silicon Valley.

You have worked in big companies and also on your own, at Atebits. What have you learned from this experience?

I worked for two incredible companies (Apple and Twitter), but I think I enjoy working for myself the most. It requires a different kind of discipline, and I certainly miss some of the resources that big companies can provide, but it’s exciting working on something that you have complete freedom with!

The last app designed by Loren is Letterpress, an online game that enables players to use random letters to form words and challenge opponents everywhere in the world. The app has been so successful that Apple has used it in mini iPad advertisements.

This success is due in great part to user experience. Letterpress generates a healthy addiction in users —that famous amount of engagement that most apps aim to achieve. The interface is quite clean, with a white base that renders letter blocks the authentic stars of the game.

When Letterpress launched, its interface design strayed significantly from iOS, in which bevels, shades and textures prevailed. Could this new, more independent, abstract style be a trend?

The market is relatively young and we’re starting to see some conventions emerge, but innovation is still popping up all over the place. I’m trying to distill good patterns and extrapolate... hopefully discovering new, interesting ways to interact with these devices.

We are certain that you have a lot of ideas for new apps in your head. How do you realize when one of them is mature enough to become a project?

Maybe it’s like art versus porn, you just know it when you see it. There are degrees of maturity, I had a few things that had the potential to be viable products, but Letterpress seemed to have a good set of attributes that would make it fun to push out into the world at the time.

Two important considerations are: will other people find it fun and useful? Can it be finished? It’s very hard to draw a line at “1.0” — it’s important that an idea can make it to that point.

Loren Brichter is also the creator of pull to refresh, a feature that has expanded and is used in many apps, including Facebook, Path and Pinterest. The same happened with cell swipe, which displays more options and side panels.

There are a number of other interaction mechanisms out there that, while not one of Loren’s creations, are consistently and constantly used, an example being the hamburger button for menu navigation.

From a high-level perspective it’s fun to see ideas like this spread and evolve across the ecosystem. Frankly, I’m a fan of stacked panel navigation... it makes an abstract concept real and physical. I’m sure we’ll see lots more experiments along those lines, designs that take advantage of our innate expectations of physical reality to make interfaces more intuitive.

Loren is a restless individual. He’s constantly brainstorming and coming up with new ideas that will continue to disrupt the industry.