The App Design Handbook
October 8, 2012
Nathan Barry made $11,000 in one day from his book by simplifying design for you
As the Brand Sumo here at AppSumo, I’m pretty much in charge of all things design around the company. What’s fascinating to me is how many conversations immediately escalate from asking what I do to diving straight into asking if I’m more focused on UI, UX, graphic design, or whatever “niche” of design.
My answer is usually pretty unexpected because I don’t think of it that way. Design solves problems. If you can deconstruct a problem down to the fundamental challenges, there is usually a pretty simple solution to be found. The simple solutions, more often than not, are the ones that get out of the user’s way and give a product meaning in the way it is used—not how it looks. Think one-click orders on Amazon, or the home button on your iPhone.
Nathan Barry released his App Design Handbook recently and it made over $11,000 on its opening day. Why? Because he teaches anyone—whether a designer, programmer, or product manager—to deconstruct the process of designing an app down to the essential problems. I really like this quote from the handbook about how great design gets out of the user’s way:
A truly great experience is often used without notice. It seems effortlessly simple and doesn’t call attention to itself. It’s the bad experiences that you notice, the times you can’t figure out an app or when a task is painstakingly slow.
The mentality portrayed in this handbook is that everyone can be, and is, a designer, and that being armed with a few fundamental insights will help anyone involved in the app design process.
Honestly, much of what Barry discusses will even benefit anyone trying to start a business or design a website; in particular, considering the context of how your app (or business, or website) will be used in different circumstances. He also cites Derek Sivers’ point that any idea is fundamentally worthless, but instead acts as a multiplier of your execution of the idea. A brilliant idea executed poorly is worthless, while a brilliant idea executed amazingly well is priceless.
This book is a smart read in the sense that it’s well-researched and written in a simple and practical manner. At 125 pages you will want to read it in small sections, to take notes as you find ideas that relate to your own product, and to step back and let the concepts sink in overnight to provide a little perspective on where you can improve your design.
I really like how well Barry mixes in his conceptual points with specific examples (with screenshots) of apps that execute well on each idea. He also hits on more nuanced problems, providing examples of what bad design decisions may lead to, discussing how to decide between making a native or web-based app, and how to safeguard your app for the influx of retina displays being used these days. After reading the App Design Handbook, you will understand:
- Why obsessing over the user experience is important
- How great design is supposed to get out of the user's way
- What specifics to look for when making those hard design decisions
Because Barry loaded the App Design Handbook with so much valuable information (here’s a sample chapter), it really took off. But what’s interesting is that he took the effort to validate his market before the book was completed, creating an email list of nearly 800 interested customers with a landing page.
He also wrote an interesting summary of his launch-day strategy, which included writing guest posts on “niched” blogs, leveraging his social graph to get tweets from people like Chris Guillebeau, and a well-timed post on Hacker News. Remember the philosophy that execution matters more than the idea? Nathan Barry provided some excellent evidence to support that theory with his launch of the App Design Handbook.
We wouldn’t be AppSumo if we didn’t reach out to Nathan to get a special price for sumo-lings. We’re selling the App Design Handbook, along with the Photoshop files for his case studies and app wireframes, followed by 5 super-useful video tutorials that show how Nathan designed and coded the case study interfaces for $59 at a 25% discount.