An interview with an app designer

App designer and graphic designer, Michelle Allen tells us all about graphic design in the UK

Michelle is a designer for i-studentgroup and has worked in the design industry for four years. She specialises in mobile app design but also enjoys designing for print, illustration and the occasional infographic. She lives by the seaside and in her spare time likes to run, read and bake cupcakes.

How did you get into designing apps?Before working at i-studentgroup I’d designed apps at a company that started creating them for conferences. It was something that was added to our product repertoire, and so I ended up working on them! It wasn’t until I started working with i-studentgroup that I really started to build on my app design skills. I work on most of the apps we produce, whether that’s starting from scratch or overseeing other projects.

How many years do you have to train?As mobile apps are still so new, most people who design them have crossed over to mobile from other areas of design, and there are still not very many university courses teaching design for mobile specifically. Personally, I trained as a graphic designer, though I know plenty of web designers who’ve made the switch. Most design professions require a degree in a subject that has allowed the student to build up a wide and varied portfolio. I studied for a two-year BTEC National Diploma in Graphic Design, and went from there to a three-year BA(hons) degree in Graphic Communication. I worked as a graphic designer for three years before joining i-studentgroup as their app designer.

Would you recommend interning as a route into app designing?Most studios expect even the freshest of graduates to have a little experience, and internships are a fantastic way to go about getting some industry experience under your belt. If you can afford to take up a long-term internship at a studio, it’s certainly worth considering as the insight you’ll gain and the contacts you’ll make will be invaluable. Make sure that you like the work that the studio produces: you want to be pushed creatively in your time there, not to be the one pushing.

Is it a tough marketplace out there?Every area of design is tough to get in to, due to the sheer number of design graduates heavily outweighing the available positions. Mobile design is a fairly young industry which is both good and bad – you can be among the first to specialise, but the demand for jobs is still quite low. As with any design specialism, you need to market yourself smartly; make good use of social media, keep your portfolio up-to-date and surprise your potential employers with innovative job applications. Create something that’s personal to them and they’ll be much more likely to give your work a second look. Most of all, be prepared to work hard!

Which app are you most proud of and why?I’m learning more with each app I design, and so my current favourite apps are still in development. However, the Griffith International app will always hold special significance for me as it was the first project I worked on from the very beginning.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?One of the most common problems I run into is creating the information architecture for an app. Most clients have a lot of information they’d like to have included, which makes for a tricky planning stage! I have to strike a difficult balance between including all of the information but making the app easy to use and navigate through for a student. The students are likely to be opening a university app while out and about, and they need the information to be clear, concise and easy to find.

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